Mo’ Better Blues (1990)
Starring Denzel Washington, Spike Lee, Wesley Snipes, Giancarlo Esposito, Robin Harris, Joie Lee, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, Dick Anthony Williams, Cynda Williams, Nicholas Turturro
Directed by Spike Lee
Expectations: Moderate. I like jazz, I like Spike Lee.
Hot off of Do the Right Thing, Spike Lee delivered Mo’ Better Blues, a film about a jazz musician trying to juggle his artistic pursuits and his relationships. It’s not nearly as succinct and riveting as the previous film, but as a huge jazz fan, it held my attention fully throughout. I generally shy away from music biopics, and while this isn’t really a biopic, it’s enough of a story about a young musician to be potentially troubled waters for me. Thank God Spike Lee isn’t one for clichés and conventions, though, as Mo’ Better Blues takes a much different route to its conclusion than the plot might initially suggest.
The film opens in a New York neighborhood as the tortured sounds of a kid practicing trumpet scales can be heard coming from an upstairs window. A group of kids yell up to the window for their friend, but Bleek’s mother refuses to allow him to go play with his “hoodlum friends.” Instead, Bleek is to practice his scales and only after his lesson will he be allowed to go outside. Even the soft-spoken words of his father are not enough to sway his strong-willed mother. When Bleek resigns himself to this fact, the film cuts ahead 20 years and we rejoin Bleek (now played by Denzel Washington) playing with his quintet in a jazz club drenched in deep red light.