The central theme of “Baby Boy,” writer/director John Singleton’s follow-up to 1991’s “Boyz N the Hood,” is that because of racism and other factors, the American black man is in essence still a baby. He calls his women “mama,” his friends his “boys,” and his house his “crib,” but those are just the superficial evidences. Look at the way he avoids responsibility and you’ll see how deep it runs.
Singleton’s film focuses on one particular grown-up baby, Jody (Tyrese Gibson), a 20-something man in Los Angeles who lives with his mother (Adrienne-Joi Johnson) and has two babies by two women. He’s still seeing one of these women, Yvette (Taraji P. Henson), has a tempestuous relationship with the other (Tamara LaSeon Bass), and hates his mom’s ex-con boyfriend Melvin (Ving Rhames). He has no job and no prospects, and just enough ambition to take up selling stolen clothes for a living.
For a long time, there is no plot — or, rather, you keep thinking there’s going to be, then there’s not. Jody’s clothing business seems like an interesting direction to go in, but it’s dropped before long. His no-account best friend Sweet Pea (Omar Gooding) seems like trouble, and he is, but that amounts to little, too. In time, we see a portrait is being painted: black life in modern-day urbania.
Still, there ought to be more movement, or at least a shorter running time. Strong acting from nearly every cast member is a help, though; these characters are so compelling, it almost doesn’t matter they’re not doing anything half the time.
Singleton’s style is theatrical in nature, with few movie tricks employed. Many of the shots are long, and the scenes — many of which are electric with emotion — are allowed to run their course without intrusion.
One noteworthy exception is a disturbingly psychosexual moment in which all the conflicting emotions Yvette has about Jody are brought to bear in a series of surreal images. This is a culture in which the possibility of the man you love being killed one day in the street is real. What must that knowledge do to a person on a day-to-day basis?
The film is randomly, suddenly violent — just like the streets themselves — which further illustrates why a man can hardly be blamed for wishing he were still in the womb. Free of the bombast of Spike Lee or the exploitation of so many others, “Baby Boy” tells it like it is with just a glimmer of how it ought to be.
B+ (; )