Brown Sugar
Grade: B+
Year: 2002
Director: Rick Famuyiwa
Writer: Michael Elliot
Genre: Comedy/Romance
Rated: PG-13

Rick Famuyiwa's "Brown Sugar" is a highly enjoyable romantic comedy starring very likable people doing very likable things. Notice how I mention the people being likable as well as what they do. Rarely do such romantic comedies pay any attention what-so-ever to lives of the characters. You can say "Brown Sugar" is about two people, but it's also about the hip-hop music genre, and how it has grown from the inner-Bronx to the mainstream. Yes, in this movie we want to know more about the people, and what they do that proves they aren't your typical conceptual characters.

Sidney (Sanaa Lathan) has made hip-hop the biggest part of her life. At the age of 10, Sidney and her friend Dre (Taye Diggs) would crowd around the "battlers" as they busted out lyrics in the New York streets. There is a direct parallel between the love for rap and the relationship between young Sid and Dre, but both stories are on separate trains that travel separate routes.

Now as adults, Sidney is the editor of XXL magazine and publishes interviews of hip-hop's biggest artists. Dre works for "Millennium Records," a profitable company that signs the newest rap stars. Millennium is comparable to the real life "Death Row" and "Bad Boy" records.

Sid and Dre have been best friends since childhood, so you can naturally expect them to have more intimate feelings for each other. But they never capitalize, thus the movie opens with Dre proposing to his girlfriend, Reese (Nicole Ari Parker), a successful attorney who would impress any of us, except for Sidney, of course.

Like most romantic comedies, "Brown Sugar" has a simple plot that will only get lazier near the end. But the characters, all of them, are multidimensional and have the capacity for making their own decisions. It's nice to see a divorced couple meet for drinks to discuss their problems. It's nice to see a character rationalize before making hasty decisions.

You don't have to like rap to like "Brown Sugar," because frankly, Dre doesn't like it very much himself. His problem is that he thinks hip-hop has forgotten its roots and has forgotten its soul. He quits his job at Millennium to start his own label, Brown Sugar records, with the goal to bring back the rap that was meant for us to hear. "I want to do it without the bling-bling," he says.

"Brown Sugar" occasionally criticizes today's rap music as not being pure the way it used to be, but it does so in such a subtle manner that we hardly notice because we're too focused on what's going on in the story.

After quitting his job, Dre faces problems with Reese who didn't approve of his decision. While their relationship heads downhill, Sid finds a man of her own in Kelby (Boris Kodjoe), a professional basketball player for the New Jersey Nets. They start off as a match made in heaven, but of course they do find their differences also.

"Brown Sugar" isn't just about the lives of two couples, and the friendship between one husband and the other wife that may or may not get in the way of their own marriages. It's also about the events that lead up to their struggles. Both of their jobs are demanding of them, as Dre is looking to survive with his new label, and Sidney is getting ready to publish her first book.

On the side of the supporting cast, the likable Queen Latifah shines as Francine, Sid's cousin. She is the small voice in Sid's head, judging all of her actions. Francine is liked by Chris (Mos Def), an amateur rapper that is looking to make it big as Dre's first and currently only client at Brown Sugar.

What I liked most about the movie is how original the humor is. Early on, we meet Ren and Ten (Erik Weiner and Reggi Wyns), the new rap-duo who pushed Dre over the top at Millennium. Dre argues that they are only eye candy without any talent. Just because one is black and the other is white, it is no reason to give them a contract.

The ending is predictable, but only after all the events unfold. Until the last scene, we don't know for sure how every mini-story concludes which is something that doesn't normally happen in the genre. But when it does get to that point when we're ready to wrap it up, the story gets silly rather quickly. However, it is cute enough for us to overlook the minor flaw. "Brown Sugar" is a better-than-average comedy that all audiences will enjoy, and a movie that deserves more attention than it will probably ever get.

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Copyright 2003. All rights reserved. Contact Editor: Scott Spicciati