Spike Lee takes a break from sensationalism with Crooklyn, a wistful yet uncompromising look at the lower middle-class Brooklyn of his youth. Episodic and told through the eyes of the family's lone daughter, Troy, played by the revelatory Zelda Harris, Crooklyn is rich with atmosphere and classic R&B tunes from the early '70s. But without Lee's usual sociopolitical agendas, it's more of a pleasant diversion than a film of lasting import. To be sure, Lee is still interested in the pulsing dynamics of inner city neighborhoods, notably how the conditions incite argument. But with elements like the wonderful opening credits montage, featuring the diverse range of sidewalk games the children concoct to pass the time, the film takes the softer tone of a labor of love by and about his family. Lee's siblings Joie and Cinque, novice screenwriters, conceal their inexperience with skillful, natural slices of the life they once knew, though it's likely Lee had a far greater hand in the writing. Delroy Lindo and Alfre Woodard give sympathetic performances as parents refreshingly free from dysfunction, other than the father's impractical earnestness about progressing as a musician. The contrast between Southern rural blacks and inner-city blacks, explored during the summer Troy spends with her relatives, also yields interesting insights. Although the director made his reputation on inflammatory subject matter, his foray into more personal territory is a welcome success on its own modest terms.
by Derek Armstrong review