Criterion Prediction #177: She’s Gotta Have It, by Alexander Miller
Title: She’s Gotta Have It
Director: Spike Lee
Cast: Tracy Camilla Johns, Tommy Redmond Hicks, John Canada Terrell, Spike Lee
Synopsis: Nola (Johns) is sought after by three contrasting suitors, the mature but square Jamie (Hicks), the athletic, self-obsessed player Greer (Terrell), and the fun but immature Mars (Lee). Will she settle on one of her lovers or continue a path of sexual liberation and personal independence?
Critique: Apparently, Spike Lee marked his arrival in feature films with the same energy and style that would typify his work all the way through his present-day directorial efforts. She’s Gotta Have It has some frayed edges. The actors hit a few rough patches. The dialogue is a little jagged. But, at every turn, Lee steers this early vehicle in the right direction and does so with a playfully ribald vitality. Making what feels like a spirited, jazzy, street-sharp film that’s akin to the nouvelle vague but is evidently a product of Lee’s beloved New York, She’s Gotta Have It is bursting with modernity and style.
While the narrative of the film is focused on the titular “she” Nola, Lee’s attention shifts toward the three deeply flawed suitors. The story is more about the self-serving male mentality than it is about female psychology. That’s not to say that one edges the other out. She’s Gotta Have It has a rattling vibrancy throughout and it’s primarily due to the contrasting personalities that populate it. Lee’s intuitive but talented display of technical style ages wonderfully. While watching the film, I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, thinking there might be some dated resolution or a cringe-inducing line of dialogue. But She’s Gotta Have It is still slick, fresh, relevant and, like all of Lee’s work, self-assured and cool.
Why it Belongs in the Collection: One of the qualifiers that make She’s Gotta Have It a candidate harkens back to the LaserDisc days of Criterion when Lee’s debut, as well as Do the Right Thing, were available. The film is available on DVD thanks to MGM but, given the renewed interest in the movie (thanks to the Netflix series of the same name) and Criterion’s mounting level of MGM titles, it’s not a far gone notion to see more Lee in The Criterion Collection. While we’re on the subject, wouldn’t it be nice if Do the Right Thing got a Blu-ray upgrade?