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Review – “I Will Follow” (A Deeply Personal, Reflective Chamber Drama)

Quite possibly one of the most evocative scenes comes about ¾ of the way through the film, in an unexpectedly moving sequence of exchanges between the character played by Omari Hardwick and Salli Richardson-Whitfield’s leading lady. Moments of sincere, intimate interplay between man and woman, bursting with sensuality, leading up to a final revelation that even this writer didn’t predict, all punctuated by a moody, yet beautiful accompanying soundtrack.

It’s a truly memorable, well-written arrangement of action and reaction, played beautifully by both actors, notably the gentle giant Hardwick, who demonstrates a combined strength and vulnerability, a complexity we don’t get to experience much in black male characters on screen; Richardson’s is an opportunity lost, regret, and an eventual rebirth of sorts, as our lead protagonist buries herself in a bathtub, immersed in solitude, reflecting on what may have been one of the most trying days of her entire life.

It’s credible, vivid performances like these (as well as the rest of the supporting cast), in quietly intense, well-executed details, that give Ava DuVernay’s fictional narrative debut its verisimilitude – emphasized by the fact that the writer/director cut her teeth in the realism of documentary filmmaking, and she herself calls the film semi-autobiographical. It’s a deeply personal, reflective chamber drama. Ingmar Bergman would smile.

By now I’m sure we all are familiar with the film’s plot, so I won’t fully rehash.

A film of this nature lives and dies on the strength of its performances. And its cast, comprised of seasoned thespians (Beverly Todd, who’s divine here) and rising stars (Dijon Talton notably), unquestionably delivers. Michole White’s turn as, for all intents and purposes, our resident “villain” is rich with complexities. I believed them all.

I Will Follow takes place roughly in a single 24-hour period, entirely in one location, with a smattering of characters, laconically narrating its story. I think most filmmakers would agree on the kinds of challenges that setup immediately presents, especially if an integral part of one’s intent is to entertain. But this is an adult movie for adults, and even more explicitly, for women – a rarity in an era dominated by material made specifically for 18 to 30 year old males. Not that the work can’t be universally appreciated. There’s a solid story in there, with themes and issues of cosmopolitan import carried throughout the entire film. A straightforward narrative that takes its time developing, and doesn’t exactly scream its arrival.

But director DuVernay believes in the maturity and intelligence of her audience, refraining from spoon-feeding, and the kind of didactic speechifying and mawkishness that sometimes plagues films of its ilk. You’re essentially dropped in the middle of the aftermath, with little more than hints of what once was, in this claustrophobic ride with Richardson-Whitfield in the driver’s seat; and your appreciation for the film will depend almost entirely on whether you believe her and the many scenarios she lives through; the vacating home, a revolving door of faces from her past, present, and maybe even future, each providing us with clues as to who this woman really is.

There’s a deftness and a confidence in DuVernay’s direction that propels what could have been an otherwise tedious experimental narrative, forward; you sense her control, and, you ultimately give in. She was also smart in ensuring that the film scats along in a well-paced, brisk 81 minutes.

It’s what I’d call a meat and potatoes kind of effort. No gimmicks, no ostentatious nor pretentious displays – except for the occasional flashback sequence, shot in what looked like a color-saturated glow, delineating the subtle differences between the present and the past. This writer is usually not a fan of flashbacks, but I found those in I Will Follow, a nice touch, and appreciated how they positively affected the film’s progression, and, ironically (given the content of those sequences) provided just enough well-timed humor throughout the mostly dramatic film.

So it doesn’t take place totally in a state of depression or despondency.

I Will Follow is both remarkable for its accomplishments, and unremarkable in the sense that it does feel somewhat familiar – the intent here being to emphasize that it isn’t so niche that it can’t be appreciated by mainstream audiences.

It’s an ambitious little film, given its thin budget, and while not flawless, I thought it to be a smart, sincere effort, and an auspicious start from Ms DuVernay.

See it!

I Will Follow will be AFFRM’s first release – in limited theaters this Friday, the 11th. I interviewed Ava just days after her brainchild, the African American Film Festival Release Movement (AFFRM) was announced, and I strongly encourage you to listen to that 40-minute conversation, if you haven’t already. Click HERE to do so now!

9 comments to Review – “I Will Follow” (A Deeply Personal, Reflective Chamber Drama)

  • Jason

    Strong cast of fully human Black folks in a good story-driven movie. I will search it out.

  • Nyo

    Nice review of a wonderful film. I saw it at the BronzeLens Film Festival in Atlanta. I encourage all the S&A folks to support it. This is the kind of film we’ve been yearning to see. “But director DuVernay believes in the maturity and intelligence of her audience,..” YES! So true. Kudos to Ava, the cast and all those involved in this gem of a film.

  • Shanea

    I will definitely be seeing this! And based on this review, sounds like I’m in for something amazing.

  • This review is great, I wish I didn’t have to wait to see the film. I can’t believe one of my favorite songs ever is in it: “Twice” that’s just aces!

  • Tee

    Great Review Tambay!

  • All they can say is no – right?

    I have to share this with you guys. Well, I told yawl I am from Iowa – right? Okay, I also said I’d have to drive 200 miles to see this movie – right? Well, after reading all of the glowing remarks and reviews, I couldn’t stand it no more, I had to see this movie.

    But wait, with gas prices at their new high, and seeing that I am a po black man, there was no way I was going to jump in my car and drive over 10 miles, let alone 200. So, I used my god given talent and got my beg on. Yep, they say if you want a deal or a reduction on a store item, don’t ask the stock boy, ask the HNIC. So, you guessed it, I put my passionate plea (my beg) on Ava. Well, seeing that I am not in her fab 5, I got as close as I could. And you know what, despite this “push button 4 to speak with button 6 to talk with number 1 and then hold the line” world, I received a reply faster than it’s taking me to write this comment.

    Oh boy! I gave them my best sob story and check it out the quick response.

    Hi Carey,

    Per our deal with our home entertainment distribution, we cannot send out screeners to filmgoers. We’re contractually bound, and take that agreement seriously. The DVD will be out in summer. We appreciate your interest a lot.


    Tilane Jones >

    Well folks, a brotha tried. Can’t say I ain’t trying to support black cinema :-)

    I guess I’ll just have to wait until the summer.

  • caramelgirl

    Where can I watch this?!

    • Joyce

      I have learned that the film will open in the following cities and theaters on March 11-16: New York – AMC Loews 34th street, Los Angeles – AMC Criterion/Santa Monica, Atlanta – AMC Phipps Plaza, Philadelphia – AMC Loews Cherry Hill and Seattle – AMC Southcenter.

      It will open in additional cities on March 25th.

  • Joyce

    This is a wonderful well-written review of I WILL FOLLOW. I, too, saw it at the BronzeLens Film Festival, and this review accurately describes my own opinion of the film. I might add that my promotion of the film also reflects S&A’s statement “that it isn’t so niche that it can’t be appreciated by mainstream audiences.” Promote, promote, promote.