Social commentary is one of those inescapable factors of entertainment. Reality informs fiction, and so many stories have social commentary ingrained in their DNA. Stories dealing with society, human socialization, and even love stories are all elements that could be considered social commentary. Use it in the right way, and your story can feel like something working on many layers. It can feel like a story that has something to say. However, if you use it wrong, it can feel more like preaching than anything else.
88 is a film directed by Eromose, and stars Brandon Victor Dixon, Naturi Naughton, Orlando Jones, and Thomas Sadoski. The film tells the story of Femi Jackson, a black serving in the election campaign of a prominent political candidate to the White House. When Femi starts following the money, he discovers patterns that might tie the campaign to a very obscure and dangerous conspiracy. These elements could link the candidate and everyone else working with him with some of the most nefarious aspects of American society.
88 is a bizarre movie. From the moment you start watching it, it is clear that this is not a big-budget production. The movie has this TV quality that it is hard to define, but that it mostly has to do with the lighting. Everything looks overlit, and this lack of natural shadows makes everything look artificial. The camera work is also quite dull, and it is happy with just aiming the camera toward the actors and letting them run their lines. Cinema is such a fantastic medium because it combines so many disciplines in one place, so it feels wasted when filmmakers are not squeezing it.
On top of the movie’s strange and dull visual design, you also get several cameos or full performances from a collection of well-known working actors. This movie doesn’t have any movie stars, but you will recognize a bunch of faces as they start appearing in the film. It is weird because they feel like cameos that are trying to elevate the movie’s status. But I think it creates the opposite effect because the main characters, and thus, the ones with the most time on screen, are played by more obscure actors.
Subtlety is one of the most overlooked but essential elements in storytelling. Being too obvious about what you are trying to do or say with your story can be a double-edged sword. It can be taken as a breath of fresh air as you can be judged as a very direct and expressive talker, or it can also be considered a lack of intelligence if your information delivery is just so basic. 88 falls into the second territory. The story is just not subtle at all, the message is so obvious, and everything needs to be explained and rationalized in a few sentences.
The dialogue also feels incredibly fake. None of the characters talk like real people. Every conversation in the movie starts immediately with some sort of dissertation on identity politics or any other issue the film wants to tackle. It is as if these characters already had these speeches and arguments written beforehand and were just waiting to express their ideologies in the sharpest possible way. The movie feels like a bunch of actors playing characters closer to answering machines than actual humans.
It is just too much. Every situation presented in the film has something to do with race, politics, and other ideological subjects. This could be the director trying to recreate the feeling of saturation that we feel right now with the advancement of social media as a medium through which we receive information. But taking out the many other aspects of life feels like the wrong choice because the movie starts to feel like a pamphlet instead of a movie. You just wait around and wonder what political stand they will talk about next.
While watching the movie, a question formed in my head. Who is this movie for? What is this movie trying to accomplish? The film ends up just having several scenes with the characters talking about all these issues we are already experiencing every day of our lives. So, this movie is not for anyone who wants to have a fun time or wants an escape from reality. Is this a movie for the people who go against the ideologies and opinions that the film considers correct? Not at all. Those people won’t even realize this movie exists.
So, who is this movie for? The logical answer is for the people who already believe the same way the film does. The movies just end up serving as a form of reaffirmation for anyone who has these same opinions. The film places its arguments in such a blatant way that there is no room for discussion or doubt. The characters are right or wrong, and that is it. Thus, the movie ends up feeling like the same echo chamber it criticizes so harshly.