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‘Blindspotting’ (review)

Produced by Keith Calder, Jess Calder,
Rafael Casal, Daveed Diggs

Written by Rafael Casal, Daveed Diggs
Directed by Carlos López Estrada
Starring Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal,
Janina Gavankar, Jasmine Cephas Jones,
Ethan Embry, Tisha Campbell-Martin,
Utkarsh Ambudkar, Wayne Knight

 

All Collin (Daveed Diggs) needs to do is make it through the last three days of parole.

But while rushing home to make curfew, he witnesses a police officer shoot a black man.

No one can understand how much this shakes Collin, including his earnest but hotheaded best friend Miles (Rafael Casal).

The duo go to work each day, moving new neighbors in and clearing the old Oakland out while musing about life, love, and loyalty.

As much as they try to hold onto the way things were, their friendship is changing as rapidly as their neighborhood is gentrifying.

Blindspotting is an ambitious look at everything from multi-racial friendships to police brutality to neighborhood displacement, wrapped in the struggle of the last legs of Collin’s journey to a normal life outside of prison.

The focus changes constantly, but rather than feeling haphazard it comes off as vibrant and energetic. Threads that were dropped pop back up again, and the story moves smoothly from solving one problem to creating another. Even storylines that are left somewhat unfinished feel organic; life does not usually tie itself in a neat bow for those whose concerns start and end every 24 hours. And Collin is just doing his best to hold himself together after intense nightmares each night, shot with flair by director Carlos López Estrada.

It’s hard to say whether any duo other than Casal and Diggs could sustain the kind of believable camaraderie needed for a quiet black ex-felon and his white, grill-wearing, smooth talking best friend that buys guns in backseats as easily as borrowing a cigarette. There is an immediate odd couple situation that is familiar but novel, adding tension as their differences become more stark in a world that gives inseparable friends drastically different outcomes.

Miles in particular becomes more and more aggressive in showing off his street background, as the gentrifiers taking over the neighborhood are overwhelmingly white and threaten his sense of self. Collin shrinks by the same measure, willing himself to be unnoticed in a world where his hair, skin color, and record speak volumes before he can even open his mouth.

At times the storytelling becomes heavy-handed as Casal and Diggs hammer home points that the audience may have come to on their own, but thanks to a hefty amount of jokes and banter the film stays on track.

The women in their lives are handling a changing Oakland as best as they can.

Miles’ girlfriend Ashley (Jasmine Cephas Jones) puts the well-being of their son Sean above all else, but she is still a young mother figuring it out as she goes, tied to a boyfriend she loves but cannot always trust to see the bigger picture. Collin pines for Val (Janina Javankar), the ex that stays in his life though she is fed up with his choices, including his loyalty to loose cannon Miles. She is trying her hardest to follow the well-worn path of educating her way out of her situation, studying psychology at night while working at the moving company with Collin and Miles all day.

It is Val that sees coins the term “blindspotting” while studying Rubin’s Vase, the famous image that switches seamlessly between two silhouettes facing each other and the outline of a vase. She explains to Collin that it means missing something even when it is right in front of you, because you want to see the other.

Casal and Diggs shine brightest when letting their natural friendship show off their hometown of Oakland, like when Miles sells hair supplies at a corner salon or when Collin gets his hair braided by Val in the living room.

The compassion that exudes from each interaction and the care they place in putting forth an authentic representation of their city make Blindspotting an earnest must-see for those that are not afraid of joining the (many, many) conversations that Miles and Collin start.

 

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