29 December 2002 | noralee
Showing African-American Families for Ill and Good
I went to see "Antwone Fisher" as an accident of multi-plex sold-out theaters and was girded for schmaltz, but was curious to see Denzel Washington's directorial debut.
Whoa, the whole audience--including me-- burst out into tears at the same time, with many also bursting out into applause at a later moment. But could anyone have ruined such strong material as this autobiographical story by the screenwriter?
Washington's prim, prudish fingers are all over the structure-- I read that it was his decisions to tone down the abuse Fisher actually suffered, and to add in more of his character's, the shrink, role with his (yet another light-skinned, straight-haired) wife because he thought the audience needed a break from Fisher, and I disagree with both choices.
Where Washington is especially effective - and the scenes that prompted the tears and the applause-- is in showing African-American families so naturally, with a diversity of personalities, reactions, motivations, and interactions, comparable to Barry Levinson's Jewish family sagas. He's more pedestrian in the macho military environment, unlike, say, how comfortably in-your-face Curtis Hanson's "8 Mile" is with guys together.
This is very much like a black "Three Faces of Eve" showing the solution to psychological problems as remembering, talking about, and reconciling with the past.
The scenes with Fisher and his too-nice girlfriend are charming. But we don't really get an answer to the question, as to how it is that Fisher, who even at the beginning of the movie is not hardened but is basically a sweet guy who just happens to throw punches a lot, ended up all right when everyone else in his milieu ended up in jail or worse.