This is a drama about a family in 1970s Brooklyn. There’s tough matriarch and schoolteacher Gem (Alfre Woodard), her hard up musician husband Woody (Delroy Lindo) and their five kids Clinton, Wendell, Troy, Nate and Joseph (Carlton Williams, Sharif Rashed, Zelda Harris, Christopher Knowings and Tse-Mach Washington). Imagine the Jackson 5 but with less talent and a much nicer father.
While this is a story about the whole family, the central character is the family’s only daughter, Troy, for whom this is a coming-of-age tale. She holds her own amongst the family’s rowdy boys, deals with the spectre of puberty, and is shipped off to live with her awful Aunt Song for a month. Brilliantly played by the young Zelda Harris, she makes this film what it is. With her braided hair she’s slightly reminiscent of Willow Smith, but cute instead of completely detestable on every level.
Although Harris stands out there are excellent performances all round. If nothing else it’s a breath of fresh air to see a black family that isn’t played entirely by Eddie Murphy. Lee’s direction is lively, with an upbeat yet dramatic script which strikes just the right tone and will have you laughing and crying in equal measure. There’s also a fantastic soul soundtrack with some Motown thrown in for good measure, giving this film the atmosphere it requires.
It also has a very good dog death.
It’s an interesting and enjoyable look at family life and gender roles as well as African American culture in the 70s, wrapped up in a well made family drama.