Movie Review "ATL"
On some Saturday nights, Mrs. Duf and I get a sitter and sneak off to see a movie. Sometimes this is a well-planned affair – we know we are going to see a certain movie at a certain theater at a certain time. Other times we go to a movie close to our sitter and see what’s showing that might tickle our fancy. On such nights, timing is everything.
It can be a great way to see a film. Sometimes you see a movie that you know little about and you leave pleasantly surprised. Last year, we saw a wonderful movie called “The Jacket” basically because it was showing at the right time.
On Saturday, we went to the movies planning to see either “V for Vendetta” or “Tsotsi” but “Tsotsi” wasn’t showing at the theater we picked. We missed the early show for “V for Vendetta” and didn’t want to stay out too late. So, instead, we saw “ATL.”
Going in with no expectations, somehow I still left disappointed. I would describe the movie as a period piece except that it’s set in present time. I’ll admit that the roller rink played a role in throwing me off there, even as I know that skating is as hot now as it evah was. Somehow, the movie has a naïveté and optimism to it that makes it a better fit for times gone by. Forgive my cynicism, but I don’t think Atlanta is as laid back and innocent as this film makes it out to be. At one point in the script, the character nicknamed “Esquire” decries the urine soaked halls of the projects. Trust me when I tell you, there are no visual depictions of those grim realities in "ATL."
So, left with no other option, I would say ATL is a coming-of-age story. The film involves one protagonist with his three primary friends, all of whom are on the brink of graduating from high school. The story is set against the backdrop of a skating competition, and as the four youths are preparing for the competition, they're also preparing for life: one is applying to “an Ivy League school,” one is trying to find a restaurant job that feels right, one is trying to figure out what he wants to do in life, and one is just trying to graduate (after a couple of attempts). The protagonist has a girlfriend and they end up with a conflict.
There are some great performances in the film, and there are a number of moments with levity and great humor. I was charmed by it much of the time, and I would rather see “ATL” than do any number of other things that are easily less rewarding/satisfying. I didn't hate it; it's just that I didn't like it either.
What makes “ATL” disappointing is your wait for something grand to happen never really pays off. Dramatic tension comes in the form of a lie of omission (someone didn’t tell someone something that they probably should have told them; that same someone allowed the other someone to labor in a false impression and did not correct it). Some omissions are worth the wait (see e.g. “The Crying Game”) and others are not (see e.g., “ATL”). As I said to Mrs. Duf as we were exiting the movie house, “a movie really needs dramatic tension.” Call me overly devoted to the notion of conflict and denouement, but ATL doesn’t really have either. Even the skate off is a really big disappointment (after you see “ATL” you’ll know what I mean).
And worst of all, you expect the soundtrack to be absolutely bumpin’(ATL is a bumpin’ town - the town that put the dirty in "the Dirty South," and Big Boi of Outkast turns in a very nice supporting performance), but after leaving, the only track that survives in my memory is a song that really was really more like slam poetry, and it is easy to recall because it plays at a central time in the story.
My advice? Throw "ATL" in your Netflix queue (you'll lose nothing for not seeing it at your googaplex), and watch it on a rainy day…go into it expecting very little and you might leave only mildly disappointed.