Spike Lee returns to the Brooklyn of his most famous early works. There, a sustained single take—tracking his protagonists as they navigate a courtyard in the projects—suggests that this trip home has reinvigorated the director. That early moment of formal inspiration, however, isn't wholly indicative of the remainder of his film, an alternately evocative and lumbering portrait of a multifaceted community that focuses on Flik (Jules Brown), a prep-school 13-year-old Atlanta native sent by his mother to spend the summer in the titular neighborhood with his grandfather Bishop Enoch (Clarke Peters). Lee defines these and many other players in quick, sharp snapshots that enhance Red Hook Summer's genuineness, creating an air of roiling passions, tensions, and desires that seem to grow less out of melodramatic contrivances than out of the real, pressing experiences of everyday people trying to carve paths for themselves. That naturalness, unfortunately, is mitigated by a script whose theatrical speechifying becomes an increasing drag. And yet, in its messy mix of authenticity and awkwardness, bluntness and elegance, the film also proves to be just like its adolescent protagonist: striving, in its own clumsy but earnest way, toward romantic, spiritual, and philosophical maturity.
Young Brown (left) with Lee as the now middle-aged Mr. Mookie.
Opens Fri., Sept. 7 at SIFF Cinema Uptown. Rated R. 121 minutes.