We are told that the word Drylongso is an ancient African word that
means "ordinary". Well the film that bears that moniker is anything but.
While it clearly is a first feature and does have its flaws, Cauleen Smith's
low-budget look at the growing relationship between two African-American
woman of different social classes offers several rewards, notably in its
well-drawn leading characters who are played to the hilt by Toby Smith
and April Barnett. Smith plays Pica, a strong-willed art student who lives
with her negligent partying mother. One night while sitting outside
to escape one of her mom's loud parties, she watches as Barnett's Tobi
is beaten by her boyfriend and left on the curb. Pica offers tentative
support, calls a cab and sows the seeds for their future relationship. We
next learn that Pica is close to failing a photography class because she
refuses to use 35mm film, preferring instead to take Polaroids of the local
black men — what she calls the "endangered species". Many of those
whose pictures she snapped have died. A bit superstitious, Pica refuses
to photograph her erstwhile boyfriend Malik Power), a tee-shirt salesman.
She also juggles the increasing pressures of school, a semi-dangerous job
putting up posters at night while a serial killer randomly strikes.
Of course, Pica and Tobi re-meet with the latter having adopted
male drag as a means to protect herself from her boyfriend. At first,
Pica doesn't recognize her but when she does, the pair form a tentative
bond of friendship. When Malik falls victim to the serial killer, Pica is
propelled into creating a shrine in his honor on an abandoned plot of land.
Very soon, others in the neighborhood implore her to do the same and
her art project burgeons into something quite unexpected. All the activity
and stress takes it toll on Pica and she falls ill. When Tobi visits and finds
Pica's mother dancing while her daughter lies sick in another room, Tobi
assumes responsibility for nursing her friend back to health. We get a brief
glimpse into Tobi's life — her mother travels as a performer, neglecting
her daughter and sending money as a token of her love.
Drylongso was clearly a low-budget affair (it was shot on a variety
of film stocks that give it a distinctive, if sometimes grainy look), yet
Smith clearly is a talent to watch, with a strong perspective and a telling
eye for detail. While the serial killer subplot is a bit underdeveloped it
does function on a metaphorical level. While not heavy-handed the film's
position about the tenuous survival rate of young black men is brought
home poignantly in a sequence of shots of the shrines Pica has erected
as part of her art project. Smith shows her dexterity with actors in the
performances she has elicited from Toby Smith and April Barnett. Smith
has the hardest role as Pica but she more than delivers a full-rounded
character — a young woman struggling to find her own way in a world
full of challenges and obstacles. Barnett also plumbs her character, a
woman both emotionally and physically bruised by life. The symbiotic
relationship between the girls and the empowerment they find in their
relationship rings true; each is emotionally barren and only in their
coming together can they break down the barriers they have erected.
Both learn to value themselves as individuals; that is, they come to
recognize that they are anything but ordinary.
|© 2007 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.