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Monday, November 10, 2014

Review: Second Coming

The Movie Report


***; Not Rated
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The basic story of feature directing debut of playwright Debbie Tucker Green, Second Coming, by all appearances on the page, is pretty straightforward: 40-something working class wife and mother Jackie (Nadine Marshall) suddenly finds herself inconveniently, inexplicably pregnant. However, the manner in which it plays out in the film is more in line with the impressionistic, even cryptic, abstraction more typically seen on stage than on screen. The religious implication of the title is just about the closest the film offers anything in the ballpark of identifying the exact cause and nature of Jackie's pregnancy. The dialogue continually skirts around the issue, and moments of Jackie experiencing surreal phenomena, such as her getting caught in a rain shower while sitting in her own bathroom, could viably be taken as truly supernatural, mental delusion, filmic visual metaphor, or some combination thereof.

The intentional ellipses and steadfast avoidance of concrete explanations, paired with an overall deliberate sense of pacing, would understandably try the patience of moviegoers more literal-leaning of mind and taste. However, this style is not the self-indulgent arty posturing it may initially appear to be but rather a clever and assured approach to clearly foreground what Tucker Green is really interested in exploring: the messy, muddied emotions and relationship dynamics that spring from such a general scenario. The hows and whys of Jackie's apparently immaculate conception are of distinctly secondary concern to the anguished fallout, and Tucker Green vividly traces the emotional thread as it snowballs from a painful secret she tries to nip in the bud and bury to one that starts to manifest in unexpectedly physical ways (such as random nosebleeds) and then inevitably affects her outward behavior and ultimately her devoted, but far from pushover, husband Mark (Idris Elba) and their 11-year-old son Jerome (Kai Francis Lewis).

As is the case with more experimental theater, any audience disconnect caused by potentially alienating conceptual idiosyncrasies can be bridged by the actors, and Tucker Green puts well placed trust in her exceptional lead trio of Marshall, Elba, and the terrific young find that is Francis Lewis, who all fill the gaps with brutally raw emotional honesty. However willfully obscured the narrative may be, the emotional truth of every moment, in the moment is always piercingly clear and punishingly accessible, whether in subtler, quieter moments or louder, more charged confrontations. Sometimes those two extremes coexist within the same scene, as in the film's most indelible and altogether incredible sequence, where an especially heated argument between Mark and Jackie plays out in one long, unbroken take that focuses solely on Jerome while the others remain completely out of view. Being forced to watch the powerless looks of confusion, sadness, and fear register on Jerome's face as he silently watches--and the audience can only hear--his father shouting down his meekly deflecting mother with intensifying anger over three whole minutes is first uncomfortable, then agonizing, and ultimately devastating in the best way. Such unusual and risky choices that pay off so powerfully make the entire film linger long in the memory and mark Tucker Green as a promising and distinctive filmmaking voice to watch.

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(Special thanks to Protagonist Pictures)

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