Sundance Review: 'How to Tell You’re a Douchebag' Is a Black Rom-Com for the 21st Century
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.
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