Directed by Carlos López Estrada.
Starring Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Janina Gavankar, and Jasmine Cephas Jones.
Lifelong friends Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal co-wrote and star in this timely and wildly entertaining story about the intersection of race and class, set against the backdrop of a rapidly gentrifying Oakland.
Rubin’s vase is the name given to the optical illusion of seeing one thing, and missing something else that was in the same space. The most famous example is that of a vase that’s also a pair of faces. It was developed by Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin – and I’m telling you all this so you can understand where Blindspotting gets its title from. As the illusion, this movie is more than first meets the eye.
Two guys go to their local burger place and get some food before jumping in a car with their other friend, who has a shit ton of guns laying everywhere in his car that he also drives for Uber. The guys start messing with the guns, and while pointing them to each other you can’t help but sink into your seat expecting something to go very wrong, all while laughing your ass off at the banter between the three friends.
The tension is increased by having one of the three guys, Collin (Daveed Diggs) only three days left on his probation – why he went to jail is another intense and yet hilarious matter involving a hipster and a fiery drink. His best friend Miles (Rafael Casal) and him work as movers being forced to help hipsters and gentrify their neighbourhood in Oakland. They watch in horror as their local bodega starts selling some overpriced green juice and tech people move in and try to act like they are from the ‘hood.
The bulk of the movie is a buddy comedy, and life-long friends Diggs and Casal just have fun with their characters, with dialogue so spontaneous you’d be forgiven for thinking it was all improvised on the spot. No one else could play these roles but them, and their chemistry jumps out of the screen. Casal gets most of the comedy material as the funny friend who always gets you in trouble, but you can’t help but keep hanging out with him. But it’s Tony-winner Daveed Diggs (I think he was in a musical based on one of the founding fathers of America? I wanna say, Adams?) who gets all the heavy lifting, and he gives an awards-worthy performance that better get recognize or I’ll get pissed off! Diggs brings an almost autobiographical depth to his role, and when Collin witnesses a cop shooting an unarmed black man, you can feel his anger coming from a real place.
Blindspotting is full of feature debuts, and it is as impressive a film as they get. Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs make their feature film writing and producing debut, with the former also doing his feature acting debut – and their long-time collaborator Carlos López Estrada also makes his feature film debut as the director of this film, that makes great use of space and colour, while also doing some Edgar Wright-style fast cuts for comedic purposes to good results. This is a film that touches some heavy subjects, but it doesn’t loose sight of humour. The film recognizes that even in the darkest times, people use humour to survive and keep moving forward, and the last 15 minutes of the film made my screening at SXSW go from crying with laughter, to dead silence, to giving the film a standing ovation in roaring applause.
Just as humour is important to the characters and the script, music also plays an important role in Blindspotting. Director López Estrada makes good use of his experience doing music videos, as the characters slip into spoken word freestyles when they have something important to express. This could easily become cheesy and off-putting, but the script feels rhythmic, and López Estrada makes those scenes feel like music videos. While these are show-stopping scenes that will make your heart pound like crazy, they are also grounded into the real world so they become a natural part of a conversation.
Some will have problems with the way Blindspotting hits you hard with its political messages, but the flashy wordplay, the visual storytelling, the sharp and funny dialogue and immense heart more than make up for any quibble you may have about this heartfelt tale. Diggs, Casal and López Estrada have made for Oakland what Greta Gerwig did for Sacramento in Lady Bird, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for each of them.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★