Big Words Steers Clear of Caricatures and Comes Just Short of Excellence


“Everybody’s on that rap-mogul shit, right now,” says John (Dorian Missick), a middle-aged IT guy who went by the moniker Big Words in the ’90s, during the golden age of hip-hop. He and his group DLP were the next big things, influenced by De La Soul and battling their label to protect the integrity of their music. Now scattered in different directions, living wildly different lives (one of the group is out of the closet), and not having spoken in years, the trio is reunited by fate on the night of the 2008 presidential election, as Barack Obama is set to make history. Writer-director Neil Drumming’s dialogue-driven feature is exasperating because it comes so close to being excellent. Full of ideas on art, politics, relationships, and the construction of identity, it’s that rare film in which black characters aren’t amped-up caricatures. These folks banter, quip, and philosophize in bars, living rooms, cafés, and while strolling New York sidewalks. The devolution of hip-hop is both the explicit subject and running metaphor in the film, as John/Big Words, James/Jayvee Da Mac (The Wire‘s Gbenga Akinnagbe), and Terry/DJ Malik (Darien Sills-Evans) sort through the wreckage of lives still haunted by the failures of youth. Drumming doesn’t quite have the skills to finesse the varying tones demanded by his textured script, whose conversations range from snappy flirtations to melancholy introspection, and he could have taken one more pass on smoothing out character arcs, which are too truncated to be believable in a few cases. Still, the ensemble cast is fantastic, and Drumming is a talent to watch.