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'Brown Sugar'

'Brown Sugar' is a hip-hop love story

Friday, October 11, 2002

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

In Hollywood shorthand, "Brown Sugar" is "When Harry Met Sally ..." with an African-American cast and a hip-hop soundtrack and subtext.

 
 
'BROWN SUGAR'
RATING: PG-13 for sexual content, language

STARRING: Taye Diggs, Sanaa Lathan

DIRECTOR: Rick Famuyiwa

THREE STARS

   
 

Its romantic comedy conundrum of "Can women and men be best friends?" is not exactly novel, but it's plopped into a new setting with an attractive, appealing cast. Taye Diggs, who played the 20-year-old Jamaican who helped Stella get her groove back in the adaptation of the Terry McMillan novel, is the leading man here. If he has the Billy Crystal role, Sanaa Lathan from "Love & Basketball" has the Meg Ryan part. Sort of.

"Brown Sugar" opens on the summer day in 1984 when young Sidney and Dre fall in love with hip-hop on a New York street corner. It's no childhood fling for either. The adult Sidney (Lathan) writes about hip-hop for The Los Angeles Times and returns to New York to become editor of the hip-hop magazine XXL. Dre works for a record label successfully riding the wave of hip-hop music.

Although the two seem like soulmates, Sidney tells her best friend (the typically underutilized Queen Latifah) that she and Dre decided in college to stay friends and not try to be more than that. But their friendship is put to the test when Dre gets engaged to a beautiful, ambitious lawyer named Reese (Nicole Ari Parker) but still shares more than a friendly kiss with Sidney.

Dre is in the middle of a career crisis as he realizes that he wanted to make music but finds himself making deals -- and his label is signing fools for clients. Sidney, meanwhile, decides that maybe she is in danger of turning into a "Terry McMillan character" and begins dating a suave basketball player (Boris Kodjoe).

"Brown Sugar," directed and co-written by Rick Famuyiwa, tracks the trajectory of Sidney and Dre's friendship and Dre's struggle to find his way again in the music world. That brings him into contact with a talented rapper named Chris (Mos Def) who would rather drive a cab than hook up with a lame label.

"Brown Sugar" is a valentine to the music (with real hip-hop artists in cameos in an opening montage) and to New York City, where almost all of the movie is set. When Sidney talks about the first time she fell for hip-hop, she's talking about more than just a genre of music; she's also talking about Dre.

If you, like me, have no "A-ha!" hip-hop moment, you can take their love of music and transfer it to almost any subject you feel passionately about. I imagine, however, that an appreciation for the music will give this movie another layer lost on me since some of the reflections ("Hip-hop was as young, naive, confused, innocent and mischievous as I was") seem overly dramatic.

In the end, Famuyiwa takes a romantic comedy convention -- complete with an easy out, a character rushing through the city to declare love, a Cinderfella finish -- and gives it a fresh coat of polish. It's nothing we haven't seen before, but it's a colorblind comedy and easy on the eyes.


Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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