Medicine for Melancholy Movie Review; A Look Into Life and Love in San Francisco


Medicine for Melancholy is director Barry Jenkins’ debut feature film, which has been making its rounds in film festivals around the world, garnering much praise among critics for his raw and stylistic storytelling. 

Set in San Francisco, the story follows two 20-something African Americans, after they have a drunken one night stand. Micah (played by Wyatt Cenac) is a tells-it-like-it-is black man from the Tenderloin who sees race as a definition of oneself, and Jo (played by Tracey Heggins) is a transplant with a fancy apartment whom Micah calls “the only black girl that lives in the Marina.” They spend the next day after their hookup traversing all over town as they explore the issues of race, class, and personal identity.

Watch the trailer then hit the jump for my review, which will give you an insight into the movie without giving away any critical spoilers!

The young couple are complete opposites. Micah sees the world from the perspective as an independent black man, with all the odds stacked against him in a city with only a 7% African American population. Jo sees the world from all angles, not just race, and constantly challenges Micah’s beliefs, while being exposed to this new perspective on life and learning more about herself.

As the day goes on, they become more and more comfortable with each other, and the awkwardness from the previous night subsides. Though polar opposites, they find themselves intrigued and ultimately enamored with each other, as they constantly battle back and forth with a passion that exists naturally between the young urban couple.

The movie itself is shot beautifully in San Francisco with a very artistic approach, utilizing muted tones and desaturated colors. It begins in near black and white, but as the movie goes on, and Micah and Jo become more comfortable with each other and start to develop feelings for each other, more and more colors begin to pop. It’s a very delicate nuance that adds to the storytelling. 

The dialogue is smart, witty, and sassy, but very natural. The story is told not only through words, but also extensively through imagery and music. Minimalism is definitely a theme, as many scenes lack dialogue completely and let the images and music express their feelings.

In one such scene, Micah and Jo make their way from the The Museum of the African Diaspora in SoMa, across the street bridge at the Metron, and ride the carousel at Yerba Buena Gardens. Across these scenes, few words are spoken, more colors are expressed, and the music reflects their budding feelings for each other in this pivotal sequence.

In another scene, Jo is viewing Micah’s MySpace photos while he is in the shower. She sees a photobooth strip of Micah and his ex-girlfriend with the text, “I WANT MY FUCKIN’ HEART SEWN BACK TOGETHER.” This was one of my favorite scenes not only because it struck  a personal chord, but also because it was so simple, yet revealed a lot about Micah’s backstory and why he may view relationships the way he does. There are many scenes like these in which Barry Jenkins successfully does so much with so little, without it feeling manufactured. 

Medicine for Melancholy is a great American independent film that looks at a cross section of urban life and explores many important issues among young people today. It’s a raw indie flick that doesn’t try too hard, which is oftentimes the case with new directors. It’s a raw, artsy movie that makes for an unpretentious date movie for those that love exploring life, each other, and our beautiful San Francisco.

Medicine for Melancholy is currently playing at the Roxie Theater in the Mission, see their website for showtimes

Roxie Theater
3117 16th Street
San Francisco, CA 94103
(415) 431-3611

5 Responses to “Medicine for Melancholy Movie Review; A Look Into Life and Love in San Francisco”

  1. 1 Rom

    good job dude. we should watch more indie films. did you find any track list for the soundtrack to the movie? i know they were listing it at the end but we left. haha

  2. Yeah, there’s a list on the official website. Check it out!

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