Spike Lee is at his most indulgent with Mo’ Better Blues, a vanity project that at times is like an over dramatic play. The film is peppered with his influences, New York sports, music, his own inability to act.
Mo’ Better Blues follows Bleek (Denzel Washington) from his youth being browbeaten by his parents to learn the trumpet, to his adulthood when that very instrument pays his bills and gets him laid – though to be fair that could have more to do with Bleek looking like
Denzel than the noise-maker.
Bleek fronts an up and coming jazz band that is packing them in consistently in the club owned by the Flatbush brothers Moe and Josh, although it seems that they are benefiting financially far more than the members of the band. These include a hot shot sax player Shadow (Wesley Snipes) who yearns for his own time in the spotlight, and the manager of the group Giant (Spike Lee), a man who retains his position despite his inefficiencies
due to his lifelong friendship with Bleek.
When off duty Bleek is simultaneously juggling two women and an obsession for musical perfection, while also keeping the usual band frictions at bay and handling both Giant’s inadequacies and his out of control gambling problem.
With all these variables at play the second half of the film virtually writes itself; will the two women discover each other? Will Shadow’s ambitions create issues in the band dynamic? Will the band continue to allow Giant to mismanage their careers? Will this damage the
relationship between Bleek and Giant? Will the gambling issue become more serious? Will Spike Lee learn how to act?
The only question I can categorically say ‘No!’ to is the final one.
Final Rating – 6 / 10. Mo’ Better Blues is fairly well acted, but the join the dots plot never allows the film any freedom, which when you consider the core element of the film is a musical style famous for interpretation and improvisation, is fairly ironic.
Don’t you think?