There’s a peculiar scene in this film ‘I Will Follow’, at least it’s peculiar to me. Maye (Salli Richardson-Whitfield) calls Troy (Omari Hardwick) over on the pretense of helping her finish off packing her late aunt’s house. Troy’s primary function, as it relates to Maye for the last year, has been to tighten her up every once in a while, though Troy would’ve liked for it to have been much more than that. They finish packing, they relax, Maye is feeling a little randy, but Troy says and does some things, on purpose, which will prevent him from getting any of that cookie on this evening. And thus we have the always rare, almost never seen Self-Cockblock. And this is Salli Richardson we’re talking about. My apologies Dondre but for the sake of this discussion we will leave ‘Whitfield’ off for the moment, but it will return. Oh my, would you look… ‘I Will Follow’ was written and directed by a woman. Makes sense now. Good movie though, it’s just that… you know… seriously?
Writer / Director Avu DuVernay’s film ‘I Will Follow’ chronicles a day in Maye’s life where she is packing up the house of her beloved aunt Amanda (Beverly Todd) and all of the people who fade in and out of her life during this day and the range of emotions that she will experience.
The primary conflict for Maye is her terribly unpleasant cousin Fran (Michole White), her aunt’s only daughter. Fran is resentful of Maye because she feels that her mother favored Maye, and it certainly does seem this way. In flashbacks we see the genuine bond that these women shared with each other as Maye took care of Amanda during the final year of her life. Spending some quality time with Fran we can see why no one would want to be around her all that much because she is shrill and brittle, no debating that, but nonetheless we can also see her point.
More personal for Maye is her failing relationship with her boyfriend played by Blair Underwood. Boyfriend… Hmmm, after the age of thirty ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ just doesn’t sound right. They need a better word for this but for now let’s go with ‘companion’. It’s the typical bad relationship type stuff in that he’s not supporting her,
she cold and selfish, they don’t understand each other… it’s not looking good. Plus if he knew what she was doing with Troy at that motel every once in a while, this wouldn’t make him all that happy either. But if he had made that trip up the coast just a couple of times then she wouldn’t have needed Troy. It’s complicated.
Maye does fare better with her bright nephew Raven (Dijon Talton) who she enjoys a few spirited hip-hop discussions with over pizza, and also her BFF Tiffany (Tracie Thoms) who helps her get this stressful day started. We are the unofficial player / president of the Midwest chapter of the Tracie Thoms fan club if you were curious. Moving along, a couple of gay dudes drop by to share a bottle champagne… for some reason Maye thought it would be a good idea to let the nephew share a glass which I was thinking was a bad decision since I apparently know her bitter cousin Fran better than she does, and I would be right, then Troy stops by and we know how that turns out, then the companion calls to apologize for his shortsightedness. And life goes on with or without us. A little U2 reference in honor of Aunt Amanda who was such a big fan.
‘I Will Follow’ is a different kind of film with a different kind of structure in that we have a main character who has no real discernible goal outside of making it to the end of this day. Is Maye going to fix her damaged relationship with her cousin? That relationship is beyond repair and the best both women can hope to do is function with the confines of that damage. Maye doesn’t have to come to terms with her relationship with her aunt because that relationship was rock solid and set in stone. The relationship between Maye and her companion is all but hopeless and there doesn’t seem to be much of a future between Maye and Troy.
Thus with none of those standard plot driven elements weighing us down we can focus on the radiant Salli Richardson –Whitfield embody the character of Maye and observe her navigate through the complexities of the life of one woman and one very difficult day, and it is the wonderful performance put in by Mrs. Richardson-Whitfield that made ‘I Will Follow’ such a joy to watch. There is a human element to this film that is all too rare nowadays and this is evident in this film in the way that Maye reacts to those that enter her life during this day, the way that she reacts to certain situations that occur during this day, and particularly in the flashback sequences that portrayed the relationship she had with her aunt Amanda.
The supporting players provided true characters as opposed to caricatures of real people to help move the story along. Omari Hardwick turns in yet another solid performance, hot off the heels of playing a variation of the character of Satan in the film ‘Everyday Black Man’, and lest we be remiss in failing to mention the regal presence of Beverly Todd who gives this film its heart and its soul.
If I had an issue with ‘I Will Follow’ I would’ve like to have known a little more about the genesis of Maye’s relationship with her aunt, considering this is her aunt and not her mother. It’s almost as if Maye didn’t have a mother or a father since Amanda appeared to be the primary nurturing influence in her life. But this small point aside Ms. DuVernay’s directs her film ‘I Will Follow’ with a light, unobtrusive touch and is one of the most human, more real, and genuinely emotional movies that we’ve seen around here in a long time and impressive dramatic directing debut for Avu DuVernay.