African-American auteur Charles Burnett’s oeuvre has been so criminally underseen that the first official release of his 1977 masterpiece Killer of Sheep is looking solid to be this year’s Army of Shadows in critics’ best-of lists. And speaking of shadows, Burnett’s follow-up seems destined to live in those of his debut, another crime that began when the film opened to mixed reviews at the 1984 New Directors/New Films fest in a 115-minute rough cut rushed out by his producers. In all fairness, My Brother’s Wedding—finally presented properly in a new 81-minute director’s cut—is the lesser work: Bound to a narrative instead of Sheep‘s tone-poem spontaneity, its nonprofessional performances feel more noticeably scruffy, and even its of-the-era color palette looks dated when held up against the black-and-white timelessness of ’77. Still, Wedding is a treasure that demands to be unearthed in all its funny-sad tenderness. In South Central L.A., emotionally naïve Pierce Mundy (Everett Silas, as animated as a Ralph Bakshi toon) works in his folks’ dry-cleaning biz, roughhousing with his pop and generally floundering in his “romanticized view of the have-nots,” as his lawyer bro condemns. When his best bud Soldier, only days out of jail, suddenly dies in a car wreck, Pierce is torn between being a pallbearer or being the best man at you-know-what on the same day. Like its precursor, Wedding is most memorable for its suspenseful take on the mundane, as a playful tussle in a neighbor’s yard nearly ends in gun violence.
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