Farewell Amor: Pull Me Off of My Knees, by David Bax
Farewell Amor is Ekwa Msangi’s feature directorial debut but she’s been working in television and short form filmmaking for nearly fifteen years, according to her IMDB page. In that time, she’s clearly picked up a knack for casting. The strongest elements of Farewell Amor are the performances of its core three actors, from the soft strength of Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine (immediately recognizable to Treme devotees) to prestige television veteran Zainab Jah (Homeland, The Good Lord Bird) to newcomer Jayme Lawson (eventually to be seen in Matt Reeves’ The Batman). Their noble efforts elevate an otherwise undercooked affair, though perhaps not enough to fully rescue it.
Mwine is Walter, an Angolan man who left his family behind to ready an eventual new life for them in America. It took longer than expected–seventeen years–but when we meet him, he’s about to be reunited with his wife, Esther (Jah), and daughter, Sylvia (Lawson). This isn’t to be an idyllic denouement to their nearly two decade-long struggle, though. Despite having stayed in touch via video calls, the restored family doesn’t immediately jell. Sylvia, now nearly an adult, is essentially a different person than Walter left behind. And Esther has changed plenty in her own right. Or is Walter the one who’s different?
That question is not explored as deeply as it could have been, given Farewell Amor‘s structure. The story is told in three chapters (Walter, Sylvia and Esther), leading to a final stretch in which the narratives fully intertwine. The three main characters, unfortunately, do not possess equal amounts of intrigue. Walter has to keep his struggles to himself for reasons I won’t spoil but the effect is one of nearly flat affect. Lawson is terrific as Sylvia but Msangi is hesitant to commit to the corniness of a storyline that culminates in a big dance competition with a cash prize(!). At least that means Farewell Amor has saved the best for last as all of Esther’s past experiences and her expectations of the future come together in a volatile blend.
There’s plenty of potential in Farewell Amor but perhaps nothing deflates it more than the cinematography, with its standard issue contemporary indie good taste and delicate palette. The whole movie, complete with handheld but fussy widescreen framing, looks like it was put together out of a mail-order kit and then color-timed on Instagram.
Msangi seems overly concerned with coming across as serious when she could be embracing the more primal and even tawdry pleasures of the premise. The conflict between the dance-obsessed Sylvia and the devoutly Christian Esther is essentially the premise of Footloose scaled down, including the teen romance elements (Black-ish‘s Marcus Scribner plays the love interest). And everybody loves Footloose.
There’s a big problem, though. Farewell Amor features far too little dancing. There’s plenty of good music; dancing would seem like a natural response. But even when we do get one centerpiece dance sequence, Msangi switches to slow motion, apparently not trusting the dance to be cinematic on its own. Like the kid at the party too self-conscious to peel himself off the back wall, Farewell Amor would have a better time if it just got out on the floor.