Now that it's a cold-hard fact that Moonlight is the Best Picture to come out of Hollywood in the past year (and, truthfully, longer), it's time to embrace the other sides of the director Barry Jenkins' impressive filmography.
You might already be familiar with, or have seen, the young director's first film, Medicine for Melancholy. Or you may just recognize the name, as Mahershala Ali gave it a brief shout-out in his acceptance speech for Best Supporting Actor. Either way, it is available on Netflix for your full viewing pleasure.
Medicine for Melancholy is the first feature film from Jenkins, who was only 29 at the time of its release. The film takes place in San Francisco and follows around two twentysomething single Black residents of the city, Micah (Wyatt Cenac) and Jo' (Tracey Heggins), as they build a brief but intimate relationship together, hinged by their insightful conversation and reactions to the increasingly gentrified city that they live in. They ask each other questions like, "Who gives a shit what society thinks?" and whether or not it matters that Jo dates a white man. Their answers are telling and their non-answers even more so. It's quietly impactful, which is now Jenkins' specialty.
Like Moonlight, the film is about race, relationships, urban life, and love. Like Moonlight, it was made on a modest budget. Extremely modest for film, even an indie one, coming in at $15,000. Like Moonlight, it was filmed in a very short amount of time (only 15 days), which shows the true talent of the cast who dive headfirst into the characters Jenkins has created for them.
Like Moonlight, it left critics stirred:
"There are no simple answers or obvious conclusions to be gleaned from this movie, which, like its soundtrack, is both sad and vibrant, meandering and formally sure-footed," the Times' film critic A.O. Scott warns in his review of the film in January 2009. "It is an exciting debut, and a film that, without exaggeration or false modesty, finds interest and feeling in the world just as it is." Roger Ebert mirrors this criticism by noting just how engaged the viewer becomes with the two lead characters in such a short amount of time. (They only each know each other 24 hours in the film, too.) "Medicine for Melancholy is a first, but very assured, feature by Barry Jenkins, who has the confidence to know the precise note he wants to strike," he writes. "This isn't a Statement film or a bold experiment in style; it's more like a New Yorker story that leaves you thinking, yes, I see how they feel."
But unlike Moonlight, you can watch it right now from the comfort of your home. So what are you waiting for?