It was films like “Nothing But A Man,” “Love Jones” and “Love & Basketball” that made me fall in love with cinema. As a millennial, in the ‘90s there was “Love Jones”, a narrative of passion set against Chicago’s urban backdrop. Hopeless romantics and cynics alike watched as Nina Mosely and Darius Lovehall, desperately tried to figure out that thing called love. In the past decade (except for Gina Prince-Bythewood‘s “Beyond the Lights”) Black romance in film has fallen by the wayside in favor of buddy comedies or ensemble features. First time feature director Tahir Jetter’s “How to Tell You’re A Douchebag” has the potential to help reinvigorate the genre for the 21st century.
What does it mean to be a heterosexual Black 20-something looking for love while living in a major city? The media would like us to believe that our options are sparse. As Black women continue to outpace Black men in terms of education and job advancement, we’re told that our only options are "fuckboys" or "dopeboys." However, that hasn’t been my experience; nor has it been the experience of my girlfriends. “How to Tell You’re a Douchebag” follows Ray Livingston (played by relative newcomer Charles Brice), a 20-something Brooklynite anxious to find his footing as a writer while advancing his blog, “Occasionally Dating Black Women." Getting over a rough breakup, Ray finds himself unable to cope with his emotions, which leads him down a rather rocky path. At rock bottom, Ray makes the grave mistake of insulting up-and-coming journalist, Rochelle Marseille (played by DeWanda Wise). At the top of her game professionally, Rochelle is a stunning beauty who doesn’t take shit from anyone; especially not self-proclaimed “nice guys” like Ray.
A quintessential 21st century Black romantic comedy, Jetter’s film explores topics that Darius and Nina would have found unfathomable when “Love Jones” debuted in ’97. After all, millennials are meeting people and dating in ways that are wildly different than any generation that has come before us. Along with the usual trials and tribulations, including rampant misogyny, we are also dealing with social media and its various influences on the process.
Jetter’s writing of both Rochelle and Ray are equally exceptional. Rochelle is smart, confident and beautiful, but she’s far from perfect. She holds on to things (and people) out of comfort, rather than finding the strength to strike out on her own. She’s also quick to cut people down, without regard for their feelings. And yet, Rochelle is real, and that’s what makes her so relatable.
Ray, on the other hand, knows that he’s fine and intelligent, and he wears those traits like badges of honor. After being burned, Ray no longer cares how his actions affect others. But, perhaps his heaviest burden is in trying to decipher how his actions influence his own self-worth.
While Charles Brice’s performance as Ray is fantastic, and William Jackson Harper’s portrayal of his homeboy Jake is delightful, DeWanda Wise as Rochelle is sensational. She commands the screen with her presence and profound performance. Wise’s Rochelle makes women want to be like her, and men desperate to get to know her. Rochelle is so dope, that even when her decision-making is less than stellar, you’ll still root for her.
With dazzling dark brown faces, witty dialogue and plenty of laugh-out-loud- moments, “How to Tell You’re a Douchebag” speaks directly to millennials, whilst simultaneously calling us out on our bullshit. We may all be out here trying to get by in a system that was given to us, but that’s no excuse to treat others like crap, or to settle for any less than we deserve. It’s a film that will remind you of yourself, or at the very least it will remind you that it’s way too early to give up on love. If you take nothing else out of Tahir Jetter’s film, just remember that missing a D’Angelo concert for anyone other than your mama is just beyond unacceptable.
Aramide A Tinubu has her Master’s in Film Studies from Columbia University. She wrote her thesis on Black Girlhood and Parental Loss in Contemporary Black American Cinema. She’s a cinephile, bookworm, blogger, and NYU + Columbia University alum. You can read her blog at: www.chocolategirlinthecity.com or tweet her @midnightrami