Genre: Family Drama/Neo-realism
Year Released: 2007
Distributor: Film Movement
Running Time: 81 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 15+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: The Family That Preys, Precious, Why Did I Get Married?
-This is the debut full-length film from director Lanre Olabisi. He’s also produced another Film Movement film Manito.
-August the First was filmed in Olabisi’s childhood home and he makes a cameo in the movie.
-Three of the actors have appeared in the Law & Order franchise playing bit parts.
Some of you may have realized by now that I’ve been becoming more fond of neo-realism after checking out my reviews involving a couple of Jafar Panahi films. Even before I was exposed to that director, I’ve had an appreciation for that filming style. Someone making a well-crafted story with a finite budget can speak to me in ways most blockbusters can’t. The grit and pure authenticity of these stories can work wonders given my tastes. If done right, they can be very powerful.
Does August the First fit under those parameters?
August the First is a film that takes place over the span of one day. It takes place in an unknown town in New Jersey where there’s about to be a high school grad party for Babatunde “Tunde” Ibirinde. Him and his family are excited for this special occasion as Tunde celebrates the next chapter of life. Unfortunately, things start taking a turn for the worse as he brings his estranged father Dipo to the party without anyone knowing until he departs from a taxi. Dipo hasn’t seen the rest of his family for ten years since he returned to his native Nigeria, and the other members of the Ibirinde family don’t want him there with the grandmother (Dipo’s mother-in-law) not even wanting to speak with him let alone see him around after leaving the family a decade ago.
The plotting of this film does revolve around secrets, lies, and mystery which did have an impact. I didn’t know the reasoning as to why the family is upset with Tunde bringing his dad to his grad party at first, but there were some clues that were quite subtle. I was surprised with the main reason which I’ll keep quiet about. Dipo wasn’t the only one with issues. There’s Rhonda who’s the mom that is an alcoholic starting off drinking wine before noon before living by the bottle as the day goes on. Ade [pronounced Ah-day] , the older brother is a no-nonsense man who has to take responsibility for everything as things were thrust upon him being the oldest man in the house after his father’s departure. There’s Simisola (or Simi for short) who’s the middle child that’s already married to a teacher named Alex who’s been hiding some things from her own husband. Tunde is naive to several things going on and wants to see his father who came all the way from Lagos to see him or so he thinks.
There were some decent things in August the First. I thought it was cool how most of the music was played on site instead of it being tracked separately. You can tell when the partygoers change CDs to play different kinds of music. One aspect that I liked was that this movie passed the Deggans Test. For those of you not familiar with this litmus test, it involves storytelling involving characters who are ethnic minorities. The guidelines for a film to pass involve having at least two main characters who aren’t white and the context of the film isn’t reliant on the character’s ethnicity. There are Black, White, and Latino characters in the film and race wasn’t an issue for the plot which I do applaud.
However, just because a movie passes the Deggans Test doesn’t give it carte blanche to reinforce stereotypes. The biggest one is Dipo himself. I doubt there are any stereotypes involving Nigerians per se, but the fact that he’s a Black father who abandoned his family was a major strike against his character and the plot of the movie itself. That’s not even getting into the little things we find out about his past which only adds to the stereotype. Simi’s issue and major secret against her family severely hurt her character. Not only that, but I perfectly predicted what the secret was from a mile away given some of her actions in the beginning of the movie. It adds to another stereotype about black women which I won’t mention, but I was shocked that Alex was way too forgiving of her once he finds out what is going on with his wife. Any man would leave a woman like that if they found out what she did. August the First had potential, but the plot and racial implications greatly hamper my final score. It would have been great if Dipo had made amends and actually meant it with some actions. I wouldn’t think its would be a perfect movie, but it would have been a lot better compared to how the ending went down. I hate how the plot hinges on how dysfunctional this family is. It felt like a Tyler Perry movie which isn’t a compliment since several of his movies make Black people (notably Black men) look like jerks, criminals, or are emasculated. Lande Olabisi is a Black director who should really know better when it comes to how characters are portrayed because August the First can be an addition to fuel people’s prejudice despite some of the other characters having redeemable traits.
This film did have more potential, but it was squandered. The filming style works just fine given how gritty the story is, but the context around most of the characters and plotting only add to the “black families are messed up” portfolio for the average viewer. August the First is a deeply flawed family drama movie that could have been one thing, but various editorial choices caused it to be unwatchable at several points of the movie. There is a good amount of mystery, but it only leads to character derailment and way too much dysfunction for it’s own good.
-Decent neo-realistic filming style
-Beats the Deggans Test
-Great musical sound editing
-Racial stereotypes from a director that should know better
-Character derailment from several roles
-Speaking audio issues and that papyrus font for the title
Final Score: 2/10 points
Content Warning: Older teens and up. There’s some strong language especially during the climax of the film. There’s a sex scene with Tunde and his girlfriend Elsa, but they are fully clothed. One scene that will be quite shocking is a pregnant lady trying to drink wine before being stopped.
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