Is this one going to get any Oscar nominations? Not likely. It’s a comedy … with music, a documentary, but it’s got the words “Dave Chappelle” in the title, you really think it’ll get nominated for an Oscar? The only category I can think of would be Best Documentary, although a great case can be made for the soundtrack getting nominated somewhere. But I doubt it … it’s a “black movie,” I doubt it gets any consideration at all. But since the nominations aren’t out yet, I can pretend it’s a better world than it is, and talk about it anyway.
You know how there’s always some movie out there that trumpets itself as “THE FEEL GOOD MOVIE OF THE YEAR!” It’s usually some trite piece of bubblegum that has no connection to the real world, and plays the audience for suckers by trotting out every heart-squeezing trick in the book. Well, Dave Chappelle’s Block Party is the feel good movie of the year, and it’s not trite, and it has a strong connection to the real world (it’s a documentary), and the main heart-squeezing trick it uses is to give us a reunited Fugees. OK, and it gets Wyclef Jean to lead a college marching band from Ohio in a singalong to “President”: “If I was president, I'd get elected on Friday, assassinated on Saturday, and buried on Sunday.”
If you read reviews for the film, you’ll see the same themes pop up time and again. Words like “infectious” and “democratic” … comments about how the critic doesn’t like rap music but found themselves enjoying the music anyway … and a basic delight at the concept (Chappelle decides to throw a block party in Bed-Stuy, invites a bunch of people from his hometown, and for performers gets a bunch of people he likes in order to create the best show he could imagine).
The music stuns … the only real complaint is that too many songs are excerpted rather than shown complete (although that would make for a longer running time, and you know how I am about long running times). When Kanye West burns through “Jesus Walks” near the beginning of the film, as the marching band gets down and the crowd chants along … well, considering that in the post before this one, I complained about religion, my affirmative reaction to Kanye singing “I want to talk to God but I'm afraid because we ain't spoke in so long” says a lot about the power of the performer. The Roots make a great backup band, and so many of the performances are on target, with Dead Prez deserving special mention, as do Talib Kweli, Mos Def and Common with “Get By” (“I got my reasons, just to get by “), and Chappelle himself, charmingly making his way through “’Round Midnight” on the piano.
Everywhere, there is Chappelle. His television show was erratic, as good as anything on TV at its best, rarely at its best for an entire episode. His movies are … well, your opinion of his movies probably depends on whether or not you loved Half Baked. Me, I think Block Party is easily his best movie yet. And this film pulls off a fascinating trick: as “feel-good” as it is (and it truly does make you feel good inside), it’s also honest. It’s the only movie I can think of off the top of my head that has room for a comedian telling jokes about industrious prostitutes, Lauryn Hill singing “Killing Me Softly,” and Fred Hampton Jr. giving a brief, impassioned speech about political prisoners. And it all fits. There’s even room for the Huxtables.