Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Spike Lee|
|Produced by||Spike Lee|
|Screenplay by||Joie Susannah Lee|
|Story by||Joie Susannah Lee|
|Music by||Terence Blanchard|
|Edited by||Barry Alexander Brown|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
Crooklyn is a 1994 American semi-autobiographical film co-written and directed by Spike Lee. The film takes place in the Bedford–Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, during the summer of 1973. Its primary focus is a young girl, Troy (played by Zelda Harris), and her family. Throughout the film, Troy learns life lessons through her four rowdy brothers, her loving but strict mother (Alfre Woodard), and her naive, struggling father (Delroy Lindo).
A distinctive characteristic of Crooklyn is its soundtrack, composed completely of music from the 1970s, except the hit single "Crooklyn" by the Crooklyn Dodgers, a rap crew composed of Buckshot, Masta Ace, and Special Ed. A two-volume release of the soundtrack became available on CD along with the release of the film.
Crooklyn is the second of only two films directed by Spike Lee to earn a PG-13 rating in the USA, a distinction it shares with Malcolm X.
New Yorkers selected the film for simultaneous screenings across New York City as part of the 2017 One Film, One New York contest.
In 1973, nine-year-old Troy Carmichael (Zelda Harris) and her brothers Clinton (Carlton Williams), Wendell (Sharif Rashed), Nate (Chris Knowings), and Joseph (Tse-Mach Washington) live in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn. The children live with their parents, Woody (Delroy Lindo), a struggling musician, and Carolyn (Alfre Woodard), a schoolteacher. Some of the impacting neighbors of this film are Jesse (Jesse Astro) and Jose (Jose Camel).
The neighborhood is filled with colorful characters. The Carmichaels' next-door neighbor, Tony Eyes (David Patrick Kelly), continuously sings and plays his electric keyboard. Snuffy (Spike Lee) and Right Hand Man (N. Jeremi Duru) are glue sniffers. Vic Powell (Isaiah Washington) is a war vet who lives upstairs from the Carmichaels.
One day, the Carmichael children get into a dispute with Tony who alleges that they are always throwing trash into his area. The argument escalates when Carolyn and several neighborhood children get involved. Tony is still yelling when Vic comes downstairs. Vic then punches Tony in the face. Troy, who has sneaked out to the corner store, sees Vic getting arrested as she leaves the store.
One night, Woody and Carolyn argue about money; Carolyn resents Woody because he is not appreciating their financial situation and uses their money carelessly to fund his solo career. The argument escalates as Carolyn yells for the children to turn off the television. Carolyn later turns off the TV.
Clinton turns his back on Carolyn and she grabs him for disobeying. Woody then grabs her and carries her out of the room. Woody carries Carolyn out of the room and down the stairs and Nate jumps on Woody's back. The other children hold Carolyn and Carolyn hurts her ankle in the struggle.
Carolyn kicks Woody out of the house. Woody brings flowers to Carolyn and the two reconcile. The family then decides to go on a trip. As they are leaving, a worker from Con Ed comes by to shut off the electricity due to an unpaid bill. The trip is postponed and the family has to use candles for light.
A few days later the family travels to the South to stay with affluent relatives. Troy stays with her cousin, Viola (Patriece Nelson), who was adopted by Uncle Clem (Norman Matlock) and Aunt Song (Frances Foster). Troy has fun with Viola despite a dislike of her snobby Aunt Song and her dog, Queenie. On Troy's tenth birthday, she gets a letter from Carolyn. After reading the letter and dealing with constant bickering between Viola and Aunt Song, Troy decides she wants to go home.
When Troy returns to New York, she is picked up at the airport by Aunt Maxine (Joie Susannah Lee) and Uncle Brown (Vondie Curtis-Hall). Troy later learns her mother is in the hospital and is taken to see her.
Later that evening, Woody tells the kids that their mother has cancer and must stay in the hospital. The boys cry, but Troy remains stoic. Troy then begins filling in the mother role while Carolyn remains in the hospital but later dies from her battle with cancer.
In the next scene, one of Troy's brothers wonder if they have to dress up for their mother's funeral. The day of the funeral, Troy is approached by her Aunt Maxine who tries to coax her into trying on the new clothes she's brought telling her it would make Carolyn proud. Troy calmly explains that her mother hates polyester and would never let her wear it then announces to Woody that she is not going to the funeral. After Woody explains that Carolyn would want them all together at church, Troy agrees to go.
At the house gathering after the funeral, Troy is withdrawn. Joseph comes inside crying, saying that Snuffy and Right Hand Man robbed him. Following her mother's wishes to protect her younger brother, Troy goes outside with a baseball bat and hits Snuffy, telling him to go sniff glue on his own block.
Early the next morning, Troy dreams she's hearing her mother's voice. She goes downstairs to see her father trying to kill a rat in the kitchen. Woody then tells her that it is all right to cry, saying that even Clinton has cried. Troy concludes that it is good that her mother is no longer suffering.
In the epilogue, the Carmichael family and their friends carry on with their lives as the summer draws to a close. Troy assumes the matriarch role that Carolyn left behind. Carolyn's spirit continues to visit Troy, praising her for taking on such responsibilities.
- Alfre Woodard as Carolyn Carmichael
- Delroy Lindo as Woody Carmichael
- Zelda Harris as Troy Carmichael
- Carlton Williams as Clinton Carmichael
- Sharif Rashed as Wendell Carmichael
- Chris Knowings as Nate Carmichael
- Tse-Mach Washington as Joseph Carmichael
- Jesse Astro as Jesse Plasto
- Jose Camel as Jose Rillo
- David Patrick Kelly as Tony Eyes / Jim
- José Zúñiga as Tommy La La
- Isaiah Washington as Vic Powell
- Spike Lee as Snuffy
- N. Jeremi Duru as Right Hand Man
- Norman Matlock as Clem
- Frances Foster as Aunt Song
- Joie Susannah Lee as Aunt Maxine
- Vondie Curtis-Hall as Uncle Brown
- Ivelka Reyes as Jessica
- Manny Pérez as Hector
- Bokeem Woodbine as Richard
- RuPaul as Connie the Bodega Woman
- Tiasha Reyes as Minnie
- Patrice Nelson as Viola
Development and production
Spike Lee was signed to a multiyear deal with Universal Studios, giving them the first look at buying any of his films, and in March 1993 they approved production for Crooklyn, which would be the first one made under this deal. Lee co-wrote the script with two of his siblings, basing the story of the mother's illness on their own life experience. Zelda Harris was cast for the role of Troy through an open audition process. For the music in the film, Lee picked all the songs himself, choosing ones from his childhood. The filming took place on location in New York, including Fort Greene Park.
During the scenes of the film that take place in the South, the shots were filmed with an anamorphic lens in such a way to give a squeezed appearance, illustrating the alienated feelings Troy was having in a place very strange to her. During the original run of the film, audience members were confused by these squeezed images, assuming there was some kind of technical error, so the studio put up signs in the theaters to explain the effect was intentional.
Release and reception
As of October 2019, Crooklyn holds a rating of 77% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 30 reviews. When the film was released, Janet Maslin of the New York Times wrote, "Messy as the semiautobiographical Crooklyn often is, it succeeds in becoming a touching and generous family portrait, a film that exposes welcome new aspects of this director's talent." Variety's Todd McCarthy called the film "both annoying and vibrant, casually plotted and deeply personal," adding that it "ends up being as compelling as it is messy". Roger Ebert gave the film three-and-a-half stars, stating, "Lee's wonderful opening title sequence shows the children's street games that flourished in Brooklyn in the 1970s. Today, he says, those games have died, and he had to teach them to the actors who played the children. They have died because the kids in comparable neighborhoods today are afraid to go outside and play in the streets. Crooklyn is not in any way an angry film. But thinking about the difference between its world and ours can make you angry, and I think that was one of Lee's purposes here."
In a 2018 Variety article looking back on Lee's filmography, Joe Leydon ranked Crooklyn at ninth place: "At once street smart and sweetly sentimental, this warmly nostalgic coming-of-age drama could be described as a Spike Lee movie for people who normally dislike Spike Lee movies."
New Yorkers selected the film for free, simultaneous screenings across all five New York City boroughs as part of the 2017 One Film, One New York contest.
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