Roll Bouncerecommended viewing

Roller skaters don't be late, it's disco time
★★★★
☆
Released: 
2004
Director: 
Malcolm D. Lee
Starring: 
Bow Wow, Brandon T. Jackson, Chi McBride, Jurnee Smolett, Meagan Good
The Setup: 
Sweet coming-of-age thing set in the world of teen roller skating.
Discussion: 

I kind of love this movie. I recall watching it very fondly, and I think I like it more now than when I was watching it. Plus it’s two full hours and I didn’t resent it’s length or fast-forward once, and I still like it even though it made me stay up til 1:15 AM, when I really wanted to be in bed by midnight. But I just couldn’t turn it off.

The movie takes place in the 70s on the South Side of Chicago. Our heroes, a group of friends who hang out at the dumpy local roller-skating rink, are displaced when it closes for good. They head over to Sweetwater, the flashy roller rink across town, and find themselves out of their league with the local skating experts, so they train and compete. That’s about the plot.

But it’s not the plot here that really matters, it’s the moments of comedy and drama that go on in the background. Our main character is Xavier, played by the rapper Bow Wow [formerly Lil’ Bow Wow], who is a good skater and still can’t deal with the death of his mother a few years before. His group makes friends with a sweet girl with a mouth full of braces who just moved into the neighborhood. Xavier’s father notices her mother’s skimpy outfits. Xavier reconnects with a girl her used to know several years go. Etc.

The real action of the film is in the small, charming, and often hilarious little moments that happen as everyone is hanging out. The first thing that had me laughing so hard I had to rewind to see what happened afterward is when one of the hilarious neighborhood garbage men describes a scenario that begins with Xavier bringing out the garbage the night before and ends with the two garbage men “as prostitutes… in an alley with no shirt on… sweaty… Not for money… just for a bite off a man’s hamburger.” Moments later Xavier, who is in his underwear, is told that he’s “got a little fruit hanging out the loom.” One other moment I love is when Tori, the new girl with the braces, is watching Sweetness, the superfly star skater of Sweetwater, and involuntarily squeals: “Oh Sweetness you so FIIIIIIINE!”

As a suburban [now fully urban, though not meaning, you know, “Urban”] white guy, I found that a lot of the scenes gave me the feeling of getting a window into the everyday relationships of African-Americans amongst themselves [in the 70s, at least], such as when Tori and Xavier’s best friend engage in a long insult-jousting session. I really appreciated that a lot of the actors here have interesting, non-“pretty” faces and are not photographed to be gorgeous. Many of the actors also do really nice work that I don’t think they’re getting a whole lot of chances to do otherwise. For example, Megan Good, who appeared on my radar because she’s currently in trailers for Waist Deep. I doubt she’ll have any opportunities to turn in the kind of nuanced, underplayed performance in that movie [or previous films Biker Boyz, DEBS, or Deliver Us From Eva] that she does here. Bow Wow is also especially good, and has none of the reserve you might expect from a rapper trying to maintain his coolness in a movie. He just puts himself out there and delivers a very believable, deep performance.

The movie is also very well-written, and contains several very real and moving scenes. There is a whole section toward the end with Xavier and his father confronting their feelings about their lost mother and wife. It is so low-key and real [well, maybe except for the Mustang-smashing scene] that I was totally bawling my eyes out. I’m serious. And I really appreciated the scene just after in which the father [an excellent Chi McBride], rather than spout banalities about how we have to move on, etc., looks inside and recounts his failings as a father in the few years since the death of his wife. It is so rare to see a character be contemplative in a movie lately, let alone accept some responsibility for anything, that I really appreciated the writing and performances. And really, I can’t recall the last time I cried so hard at a movie.

Let me also not fail to mention the amazing scenes of roller-dancing prowess that make up a good portion of the whole thing. And the movie ends on a very sweet note that both acknowledges a character’s shortcomings and celebrates his abilities. This movie was directed by Malcolm d. Lee, who also did the very funny Undercover Brother and The Best Man, and written by Norman Vance, Jr., who also did Beauty Shop.

Overall, a very sweet slice-of-life / coming-of-age story that’ll show you a bunch of hilarious moments, some touching moments, some really appealing characters, some amazing roller-skating, and a really nice time.

Should you watch it: 

Yes, you definitely should. This is, dare I say it, a great movie for the whole family.