Thursday, March 17, 2011

Jungle Fever

Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 2/19/07 w/ Additional Edits.


Interracial relationships is a discussion that is considered taboo in some circles though in recent year, it's not as scandalous as it was back in the 1950s or in the early 1990s. African-American director Spike Lee explored the world of interracial relationships to unveil the good and the bad from the perspective of its nationalities and races. Written and directed by Spike Lee, Jungle Fever tells the story of a white-collar African-American architect who begins an affair with his white, Italian-American temp secretary amidst the reaction from their families and ethnic groups. Starring Wesley Snipes, Annabella Sciorra, and Spike Lee plus Lee regulars John Turturro, Debi Mazar, Samuel L. Jackson, Nicholas Turturro, Michael Badalucco, Ossie Davis, Ruby Dee, and Michael Imperioli along with Frank Vincent, Loretta McKee, Anthony Quinn, Tim Robbins, and Halle Berry. Jungle Fever is a poignant, eerie film about the troubles of interracial relationships.

Living in a nice part of Harlem, Flipper Purify (Wesley Snipes) works as an architect for a successful firm while living with his wife Drew (Loretta McKee) and daughter Ming (Veronica Timbers). Arriving to work with his bosses Leslie (Brad Dourif) and Jerry (Tim Robbins), they introduce him to his new temp secretary, a white, Italian-American named Angie Tucci (Annabella Sciorra). At first, Flipper isn't sure since he wanted a black secretary but Angie's work ethics impress her. Angie lives in Bensonhurst with her father Mike (Frank Vincent) and two brothers Charlie (David Dundara) and James (Michael Imperioli). Angie also has a boyfriend named Paulie Carbone (John Turturro), a nice, sweet man she knew as a kid who runs a sweet shop with his father Lou (Anthony Quinn). While Flipper has a nice life that included his friend Cyrus (Spike Lee), he also comes from a strict family that included his reverend father Dr. Purify (Ossie Davis) and his mother Lucinda (Ruby Dee). The only person in Flipper's life that isn't doing well is his estranged, crack-addicted older brother Gator (Samuel L. Jackson).

After some time together working, Flipper and Angie bond where immediately, they begin an affair. Though they keep it secret, it only troubles Flipper's problems with his firm where after being denied a partnership, he leaves. Telling Cyrus about what happened and his affair with Angie, the idea of a black man with a white woman causes some problems. Angie meanwhile, tells her friends Denise (Debi Mazar) and Louise (Gina Mastrogiacomo) about her affair with a black man. Knowing that her father is racist, Angie hopes to keep it a secret with her own friends. During Flipper's conversation with Cyrus, Gator appears with his new crack-addicted girlfriend Vivian (Halle Berry) where he tries to persuade Flipper to give him money to get high. Flipper is persuaded grudgingly as he tries to move on with his life. Then one night when having dinner with Angie, a waitress (Queen Latifah) is angry that a black man like Flipper is dating a white woman. Immediately, word gets out as Drew is furious and kicks Flipper out of their home. Angie meanwhile, gets in trouble as her father beats her in front of his sons as she leaves the house. When Angie tells Paulie, he is heartbroken where his father tells him to get on with his life.

After an attempt to win Drew back, she refuses to take him in as she has become upset that he cheated on her with a woman who is white while she's half-white. Alienated by their own friends and family, Flipper and Angie move in together. Despite this time together, it brings a sense of trouble with Gator making a visit at one point and then having to eat dinner with Flipper's parents. During a moment when they're making out passionately, Flipper is reminded of his own skin color when two cops (Miguel Sandoval and Rick Aiello, playing the same cops from Do the Right Thing) stop him thinking he's about to rape her. The incident only troubles Flipper and Angie's relationship where the cynicism over interracial relationship occurs. When Angie decides to make amends with Paulie, Paulie has become interested in a black patron named Orin Goode (Tyra Ferrell) who often visits the store. Despite the prejudices of his friends like Vinny (Nicholas Turturro) and Frankie (Michael Badalucco), Paulie decide to pursue Orin against the wishes of his own father.

Flipper's problems continue when he decides to try and find Gator after pleas from his mother who still hasn't had the money she loaned. After meeting a dealer named Livin' Large (Charlie Murphy), he finds Gator who has spiraled down badly. Flipper suddenly has to contend with his own issues for his family and his relationship with Angie while Gator reaches rock-bottom.

Interracial relationships is an important part of the film yet one of the issues Lee raises is over how parents raise their children. From the way the Purify family raise their sons in different ways through the religious environment to the families of Angie and Paulie. Angie's father is a racist but holds some deep values as does Paulie's father who still couldn't get over the fact that his wife had died. That's one theme while the other is the idea of interracial relationships. Sometimes they work for the right reasons like the way Paulie wants to pursue Orin despite his father and his friends. Others like Flipper and Angie don't work since they came together out of the idea of the myths of a black man and white woman. There's one comment where Flipper said to his friend Cyrus that he was curious. A subplot over the troubled world of Gator does overshadow a bit of the film's other plot but still makes it interesting. Yet, it also presents one of the film's flaws. Despite Lee's wonderfully stylish, observant direction and a great script; it suffers from being uneven while it has an ending that is confusing.

Cinematographer Ernest Dickerson brings a wonderfully stylish, intimate look to the film while many of the film's interior shots are wonderfully lit to convey the different worlds of its characters. Production designer Wynn Thomas and set decorator Ted Glass do excellent work in contrasting the up-scale look of Harlem to the more working-class look of Bensonhurst while revealing the different cultures of black and white. Costume designer Ruth E. Carter also plays to the differences of clothes of blacks and white while revealing some of its similarities. Editor Samuel L. Pollard adds style to the editing with some jump-cuts and perspective cutting to the film's 135-minute running time while dealing with the subplots. Sound designer Skip Leivsay also brings a wonderful atmosphere to the locations in the film. Longtime composer Terence Blanchard brings a wonderful mix of jazz and classical to convey the drama. The film's soundtrack includes some wonderful soul cuts from Stevie Wonder to convey the sense of chaos and positivity to interracial relationships that included the hit title cut.

The film's cast includes some notable small performances from Tim Robbins, Brad Dourif, Charlie Murphy, Debi Mazar, Michael Imperioli, Queen Latifah, Michael Badalucco, Nicholas Turturro, Frank Vincent, Gina Mastrogiacomo, Veronica Timbers, David Dundara, and the cops from Do the Right Thing in Miguel Sandoval and Rick Aiello. Tyra Ferrell is excellent in her small role as the sweet, intelligent Orin who brings something fresh to the character of Paulie. Halle Berry, in one of her early roles, is excellent as Samuel L. Jackson's crack girlfriend, who revealed that she didn't shower for two weeks for the role. Loretta McKee is great as the frustrated, scorned Drew whose anger is understandable, especially with dealing her own race. Spike Lee is also great in his small role as the cautious Cyrus. Ruby Dee and the late Ossie Davis are in great form as Flipper and Gator's parents with Dee being the more supportive, sympathetic figure and Davis as the more religious, confrontational figure.

In a role that's the complete opposite of his character Pino from Do the Right Thing, John Turturro gives one of his greatest performances as Paulie. Turturro's sweet persona and open-minded ideas of race is a shocker as Turturro brings the kind of subtlety and kindness to a man who finds himself attracted to a black woman. Turturro also has a great scene with Anthony Quinn that reveals his range as a dramatic actor. The late Anthony Quinn is also wonderful as Turturro's religious, grieving father who has a hard time dealing with his wife's death and refusal to put other newspapers in his store believing they won't sell. The best supporting performance easily goes to Samuel L. Jackson as the crack-addicted Gator. Jackson brings a complex, haunting performance as a man in the depths of hell of his addiction while his dances are fun to watch as Jackson reveals the horrors of addiction. Jackson, who was just out of rehab when playing his character, proved to be one of the film's highlights.

Annabella Sciorra is great as the kind, curious Angie who wonders about black men while wanting a change from her usual, Italian-American environment. Sciorra brings the right kind of sweetness and realism to the role while she is forced to see the prejudices of the world. Wesley Snipes is also great as Flipper, another man who is curious who then becomes cynical about the idea of a committed, interracial relationship. Snipes proves his dramatic range while unveiling the sense of how a black man can walk into dangerous ground as it's a winning performance from Snipes.

Despite its flaws, Jungle Fever is still one of Spike Lee's quintessential films with some great performances from Wesley Snipes, Annabella Sciorra, Samuel L. Jackson, John Turturro, and Anthony Quinn. While this film provides an intellectual issue of interracial relationships, it also reveals the idea of how families influence their kids. While it's not a masterpiece, Jungle Fever is a fantastic yet harrowing film from the always provocative Spike Lee.

Spike Lee Films: (She’s Gotta Have It) - (School Daze) - Do the Right Thing - Mo' Better Blues - (Malcolm X) - Crooklyn - (Clockers) - (Girl 6) - (Get on the Bus) - 4 Little Girls - (He Got Game) - Freak - Summer of Sam - (The Original Kings of Comedy) - (Bamboozled) - (A Huey P. Newton Story) - 25th Hour - (Jim Brown: All-American) - (She Hate Me) - (Inside Man) - (When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts) - (Miracle at St. Anna) - (Kobe Doin’ Work) - (Passing Strange) - (If God is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise) - Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth - (Oldboy (2013 film)) - (Da Blood of Jesus) - (Chi Raq) - Michael Jackson's Journey from Motown to Off the Wall

(C) thevoid99 2011

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