Sundance 2018: Carlos López Estrada’s Blindspotting

On Film / The Daily — Jan 19, 2018

“With issues of women’s equality, sexual misconduct, and political turmoil heavy on the movie world’s mind, Sundance Film Festival Director John Cooper said he wanted to start the 2018 edition with a movie that’s ‘fun to the point of sassy,’” notes Sean P. Means in the Salt Lake Tribune. “Cooper delivered that to a receptive Park City audience Thursday with the comedy-drama Blindspotting, a raucous, rap-filled and often revealing story of male friendship on the rapidly gentrifying streets of Oakland, Calif.”

“Bluntly dissecting America’s racial and economic strife with the urgency of young storytellers hungry to have their voices heard,” writes Screen’s Tim Grierson, “this upstart portrait of two lifelong friends doesn’t pretend to have answers for the seemingly intractable social ills it explores—nor does it deny that its main characters are, in some ways, part of the problem. But as led by Daveed Diggs’s impassioned, tormented performance, Blindspotting is hard to shake, despite its on-the-nose plot points and melodramatic flourishes.”

For Variety’s Peter Debruge, this is “the most exciting cinematic take on contemporary race relations since Do the Right Thing nearly thirty years ago. . . . Diggs is already something of a known commodity, having earned a Tony award for his spitfire double-duty as both Thomas Jefferson and Marquis de Lafayette in Hamilton. But Blindspotting was [Rafael] Casal’s project to begin with, and he does the fiercest rhyming in a film that isn’t quite a musical, but transitions ever so naturally into sung-spoken verse whenever the characters have something truly passionate to impart. . . . Here, the charismatic real-life friends play black-and-white besties who work for a moving company that brings them into contact with the city’s nouveau riche. And though the two have clearly got one another’s backs, there’s undeniable tension between Collin (Diggs) and Miles (Casal) that’s bound to erupt before the movie ends.”

“Casal, a hot-blooded white man who behaves like a crude inner-city caricature, serves as a blunt wild card to animate Collin’s broader conundrum,” explains IndieWire’s Eric Kohn. “He’s a black guy with dreads who gets pigeonholed in the worst possible way, even though his best friend acts a whole lot worse. This dynamic simmers in their scenes together, until it finally bursts in a climactic showdown that’s at once inevitable and terrifying for the authentic rage Diggs brings to the scene. Unfortunately, Blindspotting is continually marred by the fancy trickery of a filmmaker incapable of reining in the material, as split screens, an exuberant flashback, and flashy transitions constantly get in the way of letting the stronger exchanges stand out.”

At TheWrap, Alonso Duralde finds that Blindspotting “puts far more on its plate than it knows how to handle. It’s a story about gentrification, police violence, the rules of being a white person growing up surrounded by black culture, the criminal justice system, institutionalized racism, guns in the home and the semiotics of hair, jolting with jarring artlessness between witty comedy and intense drama.”

Blindspotting “betrays instincts both realistic and fantastical, insightful and banal,” writes the Hollywood Reporter’s Todd McCarthy. “The women in the men’s orbit unfortunately remain mostly on the sidelines. The rap is compulsive, while technically, the film is rough and ready.”

“And now after all that, can you believe that Blindspotting is actually pretty funny?” asks Mike Ryan at Uproxx.

Update:Blindspotting is a love letter to Oakland as it celebrates the city’s unique history and delivers a number of sharp and often funny jabs to its increasing gentrification,” writes Gregory Ellwood, predicting at the Playlist that “you’ll likely leave the theater blown away by Casal and Diggs’s considerable talent, but its Estrada’s vision that will haunt you. He’s not only one to watch, he’s a director you should be celebrating as a new cinematic auteur.”

Updates, 1/20: “Neither Diggs and Casal’s script nor Estrada’s directing are outright inept,” writes Emily Yoshida at Vulture, “but neither ever feel like they’re serving each other properly. The film has a kind of cartoonish, disorienting sense of movement to it, hypersaturated like a ’90s music video, constantly busting out crane shots when the scene hardly calls for one. . . . On the plus side, the film feels confidently happy to just hang out for a while and color in its melting-pot surroundings. The two friends often break out into freestyle-rap conversation, riffing on the vegan fast-food joint or the drudgery of their jobs as movers. But like many aspects of the film, it starts off fun and ends up feeling like homework.”

The A.V. Club’s A. A. Dowd finds that “the film’s messy mix of flavorful, sometimes over-the-top character comedy and sincere racial politics benefits from the voice of its stars.”

Updates, 1/21: “A third-act turn stretches dramatic license past the legal limit, and that’s before an ill-advised rap about violence and optical-illusion metaphors takes center stage,” writes Rolling Stone’s David Fear. “Still, there’s no doubt that these gents have put blood, sweat, tears and a fierce sense of regional pride in this tale—or that, by highlighting this film in this inaugural slot, Sundance is once again proving that it’s legacy lies in championing diverse voices from Day One. To Diggs and Casal: This is good. You guys can do ‘great.’ Keep going. Don’t give up what you’ve got. You’ve been seen.”

“The film blazes with sincerity, and Diggs and Casal are so committed to this personal tale that one really wants to follow them on their journey,” writes Vanity Fair’s Richard Lawson. “But we need better guidance than Estrada provides.”

“Miles says at one point, ‘Everybody listen more when you make it sound pretty,’ and that’s definitely key to the filmmaking approach in Blindspotting,” writes Brian Tallerico at RogerEbert.com. “When the film arrives at some seriously dark places, especially in the final act, it’s not as successful, but the passion never wanes.”

Update, 1/22: “In its most creatively vibrant moments, Blindspotting verges on becoming a full-on slamming, rhyming musical, as if its insoluble riddles about class, crime and racial identity could only be worked out through poetry,” writes Justin Chang in the Los Angeles Times. “The downside of all this conceptual audacity is a weakness for overstatement, an inability to let its themes, its contradictions and even its fairly obvious title go unexplained. Blindspotting is an accomplished first feature for its director, Carlos López Estrada, but a first feature it very much remains: Bristling with energy and ambition, it’s the kind of movie that has an awful lot to say and not much trust in the audience’s ability or willingness to listen.”

Update, 1/24: “For its first hour,” writes Noel Murray for the Week,Blindspotting has an appealing shaggy, location-specific vibe, reminiscent of some of the great American B-movies of the ‘70s. Then Diggs and Casal (who also co-wrote the script) try way too hard to give their story a meaningful ending, and choke a bit on earnestness. Nevertheless, the movie’s always sharp about the fine distinctions between the millennials who appropriate ‘ghetto culture’ and the folks who actually grew up in it—and about how the white Miles can get away with having a thuggish demeanor while the black Colin watches every step.”

Updates, 1/25: “Diggs’s performance as a man trying to stay alive and free while staying true to his roots provides an anchor, even as the narrative keeps trying to spin off in a hundred different directions,” writes Scott Renshaw in the Salt Lake City Weekly.

Lionsgate has acquired North American rights, reports Deadline’s Dominic Patten.

Update, 1/27: “A lot of it is provocation which belies a lack of a real message, or story turns that feel unearned even in the heightened context the movie establishes,” writes Daniel Schindel at the Film Stage. “But there is undeniable craft here, and an impossible-to-ignore signal that everyone involved in the project deserves attention going forward. What does work is strong, sometimes powerful.”

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