I Will Follow
seen @ AMC Loews 34th Street, New York NY
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the title, I Will Follow, is in fact a U2 reference! Beverly Todd's character is a session musician who worked with a wide array of pop and rock stars in her life. Though she was never a star, music industry insiders knew and respected her. In several flashbacks, we see that she's a big U2 fan, especially of their earlier, pre-Joshua Tree material. It's a bit of a shame that we never get to see her sing a U2 song, or any song for that matter, but I guess paying for the rights would've been difficult for this low-budget film. I point this out because it's a rare, wonderful example of showing black characters who listen to more than just hip-hop and R&B.
I imagine the title must allude to the relationship between Todd's Amanda and Salli Richardson-Whitfield's Maye, her niece. In the wake of Amanda's death, Maye packs up her aunt's possessions and attempts to come to terms with not only her death, but the loose ends of her own life. Maye "followed" Amanda in life; in fact they were closer than Amanda was to her own daughter Fran, which is a major bone of contention between the two cousins. Maye doesn't aspire to be a singer herself, though, so I'm a tad unclear as to the full significance of the title.
Follow is a character study, carried by SRW's sterling performance as Maye. Throughout the course of the day, friends, strangers, relations and lovers move in and out of Maye's life, all of them reflecting in some manner on her relationship with Amanda. This movie doesn't wallow in grief and misery, however. There are tense moments, but there are loving and relaxed ones as well, although sometimes the score oversells the emotion of the former and threatens to bring the film down into Lifetime Channel fare. A key scene between Maye and Fran about halfway in is a perfect example. The treacly music felt like a distraction from the excellent acting on display between SRW and Michole White.
Writer-director Ava DuVernay centers the bulk of the action within Amanda's house, but also incorporates some nice "wandering-eye" shots of the surrounding landscape, often juxtaposed with dialogue. The editing is a bit heavy-handed in places, though; sometimes it seems like she's going for a certain mood and it ends up calling more attention to itself than it should, but those moments are few. Follow was shot on digital video and it looks very fine.
The opening-day crowd was large and enthusiastic; the small screening room was at least three-quarters full at the show I attended. The audience was almost entirely black, and mostly female. I'd estimate the age range as being primarily in the 30s-to-50s. Representatives from the Urbanworld Film Festival and Imagenation spoke before the movie's start about Follow, as well as AFFRM and its mission. SRW was there too, and she stayed afterward for a brief Q-and-A.
Follow is only playing for a limited time, so if you're in or near one of the cities where it's playing, catch it as soon as possible.