In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “The story telling and visual tricks and gimmicks are the kind of thing a first time film maker thinks are revolutionary, but they’re really nothing new.”
“It’s really about control, my body, my mind. Who was going to own it? Them? Or me? I’m not a one-man woman. Bottom line.”
I thought I knew what to expect from a Spike Lee joint. I’ve seen probably half a dozen, liked most and I think Do the Right Thing is nothing short of a masterpiece. And with that half a dozen or so, regardless of my opinion, I’ve always thought there were some consistent stylistic and thematic traits that run through all of them. Obviously, the African American experience is a big part Lee’s filmography, as well as the not so great aspects of the lives and neighbourhoods that inform that experience. With that hindsight, I was not expecting the kind of movie that I got with Spike Lee’s feature debut, She’s Gotta Have It.
Nola Darling (Tracy Camilla Johns) is a confident, independent, (80s) modern woman living in Brooklyn. She’s unapologetic about her sexuality and openly dating three very different men. There’s the mild mannered everyman, Jamie (Tommy Redmond Hicks), the goofy fun guy, Mars (Spike Lee) and the hunky vanity of Greer (John Canada Terrell). All three are aware of each other and all three struggle in different ways with how they share Nola’s attentions and affections.
For the first half or so, they usually encounter Nola one on one. Sometimes blatantly talking about their rivals, sometimes skirting around the issue. But in the second half, all four come together and it’s tackled head on. In some strange ways, the three men basically become allies as they try to figure Nola out. Almost as if a win for one of them, is a win for men everywhere.
For most of the running time, I kept being surprised by how feminine She’s Gotta Have It is. The central character is a woman, she’s beholden to no men in her life and she’s never judged for her obvious sexuality. I really didn’t expect that from Spike Lee. But then, towards the end, I realised something. The movie isn’t really about Nola. It’s about Jamie, Mars and Greer. It’s about Lee using those characters to ask questions he himself obviously had about women at the time.
The other unexpected aspect of She’s Gotta Have It is the movie’s version of 80s Brooklyn. Lee has never shied away from the less appealing aspects of his home neighbourhood. But here, the streets are clean, the residents are upwardly mobile and the main characters all have their shit together.
She’s Gotta Have It is obviously the first movie of someone straight out of film school. The story telling and visual tricks and gimmicks are the kind of thing a first time film maker thinks are revolutionary, but they’re really nothing new. Lee gets away with it though, because you can feel his enthusiasm oozing through every trick and gimmick. It’s just too charming to be infuriating.