Friday, April 1, 2011

Love, Loss/Things Between in ‘I Will Follow’

Salli Richardson-Whitfield and Beverly Todd are a niece and aunt who have a strong bond in “I Will Follow.” Photos courtesy of Kandoo Films.


“I Will Follow”
is an engaging meditation on loss, love and finding a way to live with both.

Written, directed and produced by Ava DuVernay, the story centers around a day in the life of celebrity makeup artist Maye (Salli Richardson-Whitfield) as she packs the belongings of her deceased aunt in preparation for vacating the home they shared during the final months of the life of the latter.

Starring several familiar faces from film and television, “I Will Follow” is less of a star vehicle than a series of guest spots, threaded with a skillfully nuanced performance by SR-W (“I am Legend,” “Antwone Fisher”).

ADuV artfully weaves flashbacks into the day’s action to reveal Maye’s relationship with her aunt Amanda (Beverly Todd/“Crash”), a free-spirited musician who maintains her joie de vivre even as she battles terminal cancer. The image contrasts starkly with the mother glimpsed in an emotional exchange between Maye and Fran, Amanda’s daughter, played with smoldering intensity by Michole White (“She Hate Me.”)

ADuV leaves Maye more of an enigma than the absent Amanda, letting the visitors to the house serve as the catalyst that allows the audience to catch glimpses of her personality and feelings. It is through the easy camaraderie Maye enjoys with Fran’s son Raven (Dijon Talton/”Glee”) that it becomes clear why she and Amanda developed such a strong bond (“Because I wanted to be just like her”). A Champagne-toting couple from Maye’s celebrity-studded days is the window through which the audience begins to discover the life she abandoned to live with her aunt.

Salli Richardson-Whitfield and Omari Harwick as lovers in “I Will Follow.”

It is a romantic interlude with former lover Troy (Omari Harwick/“For Colored Girls”) that provides the biggest glimpse into Maye’s state of mind while her aunt was alive. Too bad that such a moment didn’t occur earlier in “I Will Follow.” Opportunities for more depth and poignancy were also lost with two other relationships that only seemed to hint at something far more complex than what meets the eye: between Fran and Amanda, as well as Maye and the boyfriend she left behind (Blair Underwood/“The Event”).

Ultimately, “I Will Follow” is Maye’s story, told from her perspective, and ADuV gradually peels the emotional layers of her protagonist to reveal what is at the core of her emotional journey. The film meanders to a conclusion that is as open as the possibilities before Maye.

“I Will Follow” is the first release from the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement (AFFRM,, a new distribution collective spearheaded by ADuV. The group releases independent black-themed feature films through simultaneous limited engagements backed by black film festival organizations in select cities.

“I Will Follow” is Rated PG-13. It is currently playing in New York; Los Angeles; Atlanta; Charlotte, NC; Chicago; Detroit; Elizabeth, NJ; Houston; Hampton, VA, Nashville; Oakland, Philadelphia, and Wilmington, NC.

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