1 Hr., 16 Mins.
My Brother's Wedding July 20, 2020
y Brother’s Wedding doesn’t have very much narrative momentum. But I can’t imagine that that wasn’t at least a little intentional on the part of its writer, director, editor, and producer, Charles Burnett. The film, released in 1983, seems to be one born out of feeling and of a desire to really capture a milieu for what it is. We watch the feature not hungry for the
typical arc of a dramatic storyline because we are so engaged by how well-worn the relationships between the characters feel, and by the convincing portrayal of its lower-class South Central Los Angeles setting. Burnett may not have the keenest ear for dialogue. Or maybe the delivery from the no-name actors makes it read a little more canned than it would have coming from the lips of a more-experienced ensemble. But he has an observant eye. He and his family grew up in the same predominantly Black area of South Los Angeles seen in the movie. We can sense this intimacy, first-hand knowledge, seeping into the movie’s frames. It’s an evocative feature.
Rakish, sleepy-eyed Everett Silas stars in My Brother’s Wedding as Pierce, a 20-something caught in arrested development. Aimless and unmotivated, he works at his disapproving parents’ dry-cleaning business. This, as most else, he treats rather unseriously. (He is prone to sleeping on the job.) The film mostly revolves around his friendship with the similarly goalless Soldier (Ronnie Bell), who soon into the movie is released from prison (he has long drifted in and out of the system), and the looming, eponymous wedding of his older sibling, Wendell (Monte Easter). Pierce and Soldier’s misadventures work obliquely as testaments to how their environment is rife with disadvantage. There are few jobs available to them, and the neighborhood in general is becoming increasingly overpoliced, as evidenced by Soldier’s recurring bookings. It always feels like everything could go haywire — deadly, even — in an instant.
The wedding, in a lot of ways, further attests to how difficult a thing it is for Pierce and his family members, who are Black and who work blue-collar jobs, to move upward socially. Wendell is gaining traction in the upper social echelons but only after becoming a successful lawyer; Pierce can’t stand Wendell’s fiancée, Sonia (Gaye-Shannon Burnett), in part because she was born into wealth. She, too, is Black, but as an effect of her longstanding and unwavering financial security, she hasn’t known a life, really, where her circumstances have put her at as much of an immediate disadvantage. “I used to have a lot of things to worry about — I had to worry about my grades, whether people liked me,” Sonia says, condescendingly, with a hoity-toity affect when Pierce asks about her struggles, looking to start a fight.
The movie finds a requisite conflict when Pierce, at the last minute, asks Wendell and Sonia to change the date of their wedding when tragedy strikes. It’s during this half of the film that My Brother’s Wedding proves especially emotionally devastating. Who hasn’t been there, choosing between a family obligation and a separate something that most certainly has more of a moral imperative?
I was less compelled by the plot’s movement than I was by how Burnett captures the dynamic between family members. Myriad tensions have in no doubt always been there, but they are being exacerbated lately by Wendell's upward movement and his apparent eagerness to shed his background. Burnett cultivates an aura of “stuckness” in the main setting, and when looking from Pierce's point of view, that’s hard to shake off. He puts into motion this idea that as long as you’re trying to do anything or be anybody in this South Los Angeles neighborhood, particularly if you're Black, you won’t be able to get anywhere. If you do get anywhere, you must go elsewhere, like Wendell, or you must be literally born and raised elsewhere, like Sonia. “For all their lack of outward despair, there's no sense that the people here, especially the young Black men fully given to the tides of this changing neighborhood, can really ‘make it,’ is there?” the critic K. Austin Collins wrote in a review of the film a few years ago. “I guess there's marriage.” A-