Steve McQueen tackles a lot of key issues regarding race with his series of movies entitled collectively, Small Axe. Lovers Rock seems to be an unusual entry in this series in that it doesn’t overtly tackle any serious racial issue but instead indulges in recreating a specific type of “house-party” at a specific period in time. This has its advantages and allure but for the most part, unless it is something you specifically experienced yourself, you may struggle to engage.
To his credit, McQueen effectively brings the era to life. It is authentic and realistic, from the fashion to the way in which people talk and interact. At times you feel like a fly-on-the-wall, watching events that are actually unfolding in real time and you never question how genuine the the recreations of the time period are. This comes from the small moments and nuanced features in people’s performances as well as the more central, focal parts of the movie.
From the music, the clothes, the language and the way people act, from food to dancing, it is engrossing at times but this doesn’t last long enough. McQueen spends extended moments just focusing on people dancing, getting swept away in the music. This is artistic and interesting once but he returns to this a couple of times and you can’t help but feel your attention wane, particularly if you have no invested interest in the music or the time.
The film is clearly supposed to be snap-shot of a way of life and a microcosm of how a culture existed in Britain. It succeeds in this respect and introduces key characters and specific moments that you wish were developed further. A tense stand-off with white thugs outside the party, a small conversation about a past-relationship, a heroic but terrifying scene in the garden of the party: these moments pique interest and snap you back from the more indulgent way the film is put together but they are never developed enough to make the film continually interesting.
It means that when the credits do roll, you can’t help but feel you’ve watched a movie where “nothing happens.” Sometimes this can work very well but the setting and culture, to someone like myself who it is alien to, can also mean the film never feels “for me” and you can struggle to relate or feel completely engaged. It is interesting but never holds the attention like a film which specifically touches upon any of the issues hinted at in the course of this movie would.
Overall, Lover Rock is a fantastic look at a specific culture at a specific time in British history. It recreates the sounds, style and look of people and the way of life in an interesting way. Unfortunately, the aim isn’t to develop this any further and within the more indulgent moments, the movie can lose its engagement.
Rating – 2.5
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