Blackbird follows high school senior Randy Rousseau (Julian Walker) as he comes to terms with his sexuality growing up in a small, conservative, Southern Baptist town. To make matters worse, his mother, Claire (Mo’Nique), never quite recovered from the kidnapping of her daughter six years prior; causing her husband (Isaiah Washington) to leave the family. In an effort to make a rather loaded story accessible in a brief synopsis, several other dramas unfold within Randy’s circle of friends: Randy experiments with his sexuality, his secret crush is dating the town pastor’s daughter, and he joins a group of college filmmakers in an effort to find comfort in his true sexuality.
The acting in this film is its greatest strength. Julian Walker delivers a beautiful performance as a confused homosexual teenager, and he also is given plenty of opportunity to show off his wonderful singing voice. Watching him perform the nuances of that specific confusion is probably the most fun part of the film. Given that he is actually an amateur actor in his first feature film, I hope to see much more of him in future films. Speaking more to his natural talent as an actor, his chemistry with other actors is wonderful, particularly Isaiah Washington (his father), Torrey Laamar (his secret crush, Todd), and Kevin Allessee (his lover, Lance). I’d say my favorite of the three is the relationship between son and father.
Although this film has a lot of greatness within, it falls victim to having too much plot. If the story had been limited to a homosexual teenager and his friends growing up in Southern Baptist Mississippi, I definitely would have liked it much more. Every bit of drama between Randy and his friends is perfect: homosexuality, pregnancy, STDs, religion, suicide (not too much of a spoiler), anything and everything involving the group of friends is wonderfully told. I even enjoy the subtle humor in and around Randy’s frequent homosexual dreams. Unfortunately, the film does not stop to recognize its own beauty. Instead we see a strange premonition and probably one of the most shoehorned conclusions I have ever seen in a film.
Starting with the premonition: Randy sees one of his friends as a corpse at one point in the film. His friends quickly chalk this phenomenon up to the fact that he “may be” homosexual. One friend even references the fact that he has “the shining”. While this may be a fun cinephile reference, the entire supernatural occurrence of the premonition does not fit the tone of the film. I would argue that it takes away from the weight of the suicide that he foresees. The character’s suicide is implicitly important to the film’s message (the constant conflict between lifestyle choices and Christian morals in teenagers), and Randy’s premonition completely undermines it.
The second major flaw in this film is the resolution. Randy’s sister, who has been missing for six years is finally found and returned home, creating a complete loving and accepting family. While the missing girl is a brilliant plot device (Claire has gone crazy because of her missing daughter, then blames her son’s homosexuality for this “curse” upon the family), she does not need to appear for any reason. And yet, she does. A girl we spend about eighty minutes not caring about, at all, returns to the family just in time for a happy ending. Complete with an “explanation” as to why she has been missing for the last six years. If you can’t tell, this really bothered me.
Finally, I want to briefly talk about the music in the film. With a lot of choir songs and a capella singing from the actors, the film is a borderline musical. I really liked this aspect of the film. I almost wish there were more singing, so it could have been a full musical. Once more, however, too much music gets added into the film. There are two moments in the film where an actual song is used as filler during a montage, and it just takes me out of the film, especially when the film begins with what you believe to be a musical number. So aside from the misplaced premonition, the forced happy ending, and a couple songs, I do recommend the film for its fantastic story and superb acting.