"How do you define yourself?" It's not until its third act that Medicine for Melancholy's lead male character explicitly asks the question at the heart of Barry Jenkins' tender, smart, soulful film. Micah (The Daily Show's Wyatt Cenac) is a doe-eyed, seemingly laid-back San Francisco native who installs aquariums for a living. When he and 'Jo (Tracey Heggins)—initially aloof, charming when thawed—awaken in the same bed after a party, she's determined to do her walk of shame. Micah's too smitten, though, just to let her get away. The rest of the film follows as the duo peels back the layers in conversations that cover interracial relationships, striking the balance between what you do and how you pay the bills, and the role of "urban planning" in pushing poor and black folk out of San Francisco. (Jenkins has joked in interviews that the film is black mumblecore.) "Imagine the Lower Haight," says Micah, recalling his childhood, "filled with nothing but black folk and white artists." The lament will resonate from San Francisco to D.C., Los Angeles to Harlem, as enclaves that were once hubs of black American life are drained of their blackness.
A fine romance: Heggins and Cenac.
Runs at Northwest Film Forum, Fri., Feb. 20–Thurs., Feb. 26. Not rated. 87 minutes.