August 99: The Wood

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by Shelby J. Jones
Screenplay by: Rick Famuyiwa
Directed by: Rick Famuyiwa
Produced by: Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa and David Gale
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Casting by: Mali Finn and Emily Schweber
Starring: Taye Diggs, Omar Epps, Richard T. Jones, Sean Nelson and Malinda Williams
Rated "R"

"Move over Boyz 'N the Hood and Friday - make room for The Wood

Four out of Four Stars

The 1980's - who could forget it? High top fades, the new sounds of rap music and definitely the three-stripe phenom of Adidas. The Wood, Rick Famuyiwa's debut feature film is a funny, old-school remix that is guaranteed to delight audiences now and for years to come. African-Americans have been waiting for a long time for a film that explored the lives of teenagers who are not gang-bangers, pot heads or athletes. The under-exposed middle class black teenager was finally given a chance to dance across the silver screen without owing money to Big Worm, making a booty call or pouring anything out for his homies.

Granted, films like Friday, Menace II Society and Boyz 'N the Hood will always have their place in filmgoers hearts, but The Wood is surely a welcomed time-out.


Roland, performed well by Taye Diggs, is about to get married. Rather than address his cold feet earlier or postpone the wedding, Roland decides to wait until the day of the wedding to confront his indecision. Three hours before the wedding, he is nowhere to be found. His boys, Mike (Omar Epps) and Slim (Richard T. Jones), are suddenly paged while waiting at the wedding. After being pissed about Roland's latest scandal, they do as all brothers would do; they go to rescue him. Much to their surprise, Roland is drunk, indecisive and chillin' at his ex-girlfriend's house.

While trying to sober up Roland, the three reminisce about their time growing up in The Wood. ("The Wood" is their affectionate slang term for the town of Inglewood, California.) While reminiscing, does our groom learn anything about himself or does he discover all the reasons why he has finally decided to jump the broom?


Who could forget the film Fresh? Sean Nelson, who portrayed the lead character Fresh with dead-solid clarity, is back portraying Young Mike. His character is absolutely superb including a comedic side which was absent in the serious minded character of Fresh.

Taye Diggs (Roland), who drove the women wild in How Stella Got Her Groove Back, returns to the screen after a successful bid in the film Go. Portraying a young groom who is drunk is no easy task but Diggs delivers with an understated professionalism that marks him as a man to watch. Check him out in the upcoming Universal Pictures Release, The Best Man.

Richard T. Jones (Slim) who definitely needs to spend more time on the screen is unbelievably funny. His timing in the delivery of his lines created cinematic harmony for the threesome. Check him out in Kiss the Girls, Event Horizon and What's Love Got To Do With It.

To round out the solid three, Omar Epps (Mike or Big Mike) delivers as usual. Narrating the film to keep us up to the minute, Epps does what he does best which is making his character appear normal and real. From his convincing roles in Juice, Higher Learning and The Program, we have to consider Mr. Epps one of our most exciting young actors today.

Rounding out the three were up and coming actors like Antwon Tanner (Boo) who portrayed the strong, silent type in the award winning Volkswagen commercial, "Da, Da, Da," and the Tri Star Film, Sunset Park. Please be sure to check out our more extensive interview with Mr. Tanner. Teaming with De'Aundre Bonds (Stacey), the two create an unforgettable tag-team in just a few scenes. Can these two be woven into their own story vehicle?

Finally, the film maintains its humor and flow with great performances by Trent Cameron (Young Roland), Duane Finley (Young Slim) and Malinda Williams (Young Alicia). The three team with Sean Nelson to re-create the Junior High School and High School feeling with great acting, dialect and total 80's gear from Costume Designer, Darryle Johnson.


When I was in elementary school, I remember my first dance with a really cute girl. I couldn't dance so I looked at one of my boys and imitated what he did. The year was 1980 and the song was "One Nation Under A Groove." When I was watching The Wood, I had so many similar flashbacks that my belly tingled and my jaws locked from laughing so much. It was one of those films where after you have suspended all disbelief, the reality of the film appeals to keener senses and memories and you have an instant shelf favorite.

Irrespective of the need for a film that focused on the black middle class, this film focused on this lifestyle and highlighted the humor that blacks face when growing up. More often than not, classic teenage films like Animal House, Clueless and Fast Times at Ridgemont High rarely tell the story from a black teenager's perspective. It was great to see our teenage foibles and embarrassments on screen. After all, most of us are not druggies, athletes or gang-bangers.

So rather than trying to send a message or continue a downward spiral in black storytelling, Famuyiwa delivered a film that tells a story and includes everything that makes a story complete: characters, dialogue, visual imagery and rhythm.

The Wood should be considered a must see, an absolute see, a gotta see-no fooling, I ain't never lied!

Remember Cooley High, Boyz 'N the Hood, Friday, Uptown Saturday Night and the like? Now go and see The Wood so that you will remember it!


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