Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal in Blindspotting - A buddy comedy in a world that won't let it be one.
"Has the high-energy crackle and syncopated rhythms of a rap battle." | Photo: Robby Baumgartner

Carlos Lopez Estrada's Blindspotting - co-written by its stars Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal - has the high-energy crackle and syncopated rhythms of a rap battle, with its buddy comedy format sharing the stage and trading rhymes and times with its deeper societal commentary element to nimble effect.

Set over the course of three days, it follows Collin (Diggs) across his final stint of probation, as he tries to steer clear of the law. The film makes no bones about this being a tough ask, not just in terms of hitting his curfew but because it wouldn't be difficult for a black man in the Oakland district of San Francisco to fall foul of the law just by walking around.

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Then, there's Collin's best mate Miles, whose loose cannon attitude could be just the thing to attract the wrong sort of attention - with his whiteness, however undesirably worn, offering him a natural protection that Collin doesn't have. Over the course of the film, boy men's sense of identity - and how they are perceived by those around them in their rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood - will come to be tested in what will also prove to be an examination of their friendship bonds.

In fact, Miles penchant for trouble pales into insignificance when Collin witnesses a cop doing something he shouldn't outside the hours of his curfew. His moral quandary adds to the tension in a film that has this sort of emotion to burn. Like fellow 2018 alumnus Sorry To Bother You, Estrada's film refuses to be easily contained - albeit to a slightly lesser degree than Boots Riley's pedal to the metal genre destroyer. The director isn't afraid of heightened style and the script doesn't shy away from heightened language, increasingly embracing spoken word poetry as the film progresses. Despite its strong themes concerning racism, class and the displacement of people as money moves in, there's also plenty of comedy here, with Estrada showing he is able to handle a move from humour to harder topics with easy. Casal and Diggs are long-time friends and it shows in their easy rapport, their unlikely lads friendship believable to the last.

It's a shame the writers felt the need to explain the Blindspotting of the title in quite such an on-the-nose fashion - the idea that when presented with a picture that could be either two faces looking at one another or a vase, the brain perceives one of the other first is outlined as something Collin's ex (Janina Gavankar) is studying. It seems an obvious signpost for some of ideas that the film has been working towards much more subtly to that point. But if the film occasionally strays into didactic territory, its emotional delivery never falters, building to a monologue in which Collin has a high-stakes rap battle, not just with thoughts about his community and the subject of his animosity but with himself.

Reviewed on: 12 Feb 2019
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A buddy comedy in a world that won't let it be one.
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Sundance 2018

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