Baby Boy [2001]

A worthy companion piece to 1991's Boyz N the Hood, John Singleton's Baby Boy expresses compassionate but unforgiving criticism of young, African American black men who lead reckless, irresponsible lives while blithely blaming racism for their chronic disadvantage. That's already enough to make this a provocative and emotionally challenging film, but Singleton injects his drama with such passionate vitality that it never seems inflammatory; instead, in presenting this portrait of a confused and conflicted 20-year-old black man named Jody (Tyrese Gibson), Singleton is both affectionate and accusatory, lending Baby Boy an edgy, timeless wisdom that other, less courageous films could never hope to offer. Unemployed and living with his 36-year-old mother (A.J. Johnson), Jody has fathered children from two young mothers and seems destined for an early grave. He never knew his father, but his mother's new boyfriend Melvin (played to perfection by Ving Rhames) is an ex-con with streetwise maturity that Jody, in time, will come to recognize and respect. This generational dynamic is the lifeblood of Singleton's central theme; Jody can follow Melvin's example or fall into the trap of lawlessness personified by Rodney (Snoop Dogg), a violent gangsta who arrives to threaten Jody's tenuous chance at a respectable adulthood. Through a wealth of fine performances and blistering dialogue, Baby Boy presents hard questions with no easy answers, and although Singleton is prone to polemical melodrama, his blunt approach serves a noble and ultimately hopeful purpose. --Jeff Shannon

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