The Wood (1999)

Directed by Rick Famuyiwa

In the panicky, uncertain hours before his wedding, a groom with prenuptial jitters and his two best friends reminisce about growing up together in the middle-class African-American neighborhood of Inglewood, California. Flashing back to the twenty-something trio's childhood exploits, the memories capture the mood and nostalgia of the '80s era.

Not nearly as vexing as its sibling "1999 film with a Black ensemble cast oriented around a wedding", The Best Man, but the little The Wood ostensibly teaches about masculinity and what it means to grow up in America is not all that much better. It's not as if they are in any way violent towards women, but they are the kind of commitment-phobic male role models in which catharsis is reached when characters are forced, by peer or parental pressure, to finally "be a man" and stand up to "your" woman by disregarding her input and wishes — primarily on threat of being called a "pussy". This is naturalised as being not merely The Way Things Are, but The Right Way too. All of this to say is that no wonder Roger Ebert called it "a sweet, lighthearted comedy", and it probably felt like that in the Boyz n the Hood-inflected world of 1999. Still, the film clearly approves of some pervasive system whereby access to women is granted by elder siblings or fathers backed up by a more-than-credible threat of violence. I'm sure there is a word for this pervasive system… but, ah well, never mind.

Anyway, the movie is mostly saved by some solid performances, but it's unclear what the film's formal conceit of showing their upbringing really adds to the film — especially as they don't seem to learn much, if anything, from the experience of growing up the 'Wood. The film does not imply any cultural or geographical specificity to this bildungsroman beyond it being generically middle-class, so, well, why the movie even called The Wood in the first place beyond its rhyming contradistinction to the working-class 'Hood'? Why not set it in North Carolina? Anyway, it's a little perverse that you can learn more about masculinity from Tom Cruise's character in another 1999 film, Magnolia… albeit obviously in inverse. It's more than a little unfair, but I fear Frank TJ Mackey probably even dresses up better than everyone in The Wood who are in some (pretty risible) 1990s suiting throughout.