The Wood

on July 16, 1999 by Wade Major
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   Heartfelt honesty and a determined refusal to resort to exploitative stereotypes help make "The Wood" an uncommonly uplifting experience for audiences of all races and backgrounds.
   An inner-city coming-of-age tale consciously and conscientiously designed to emphasize only the most positive aspects of urban life, "The Wood" centers on three friends--Mike, Slim and Roland--as they grapple with love, sex, friendship and the turbulent emotions of adolescence while growing up in "The Wood," the city more commonly known as Inglewood, California. As the adult Mike (Omar Epps) and Slim (Richard T. Jones) help Roland (Taye Diggs) overcome his last-minute wedding day jitters, a series of interspersed flashbacks show the trio as teenagers (Sean Nelson, Duane Finley and Trent Cameron, respectively), relating the pivotal adventures and misadventures through which they forged their lifelong commitment to one another.
   It is an admittedly idealized view of urban strife wherein the very real plagues of drugs, gangs, domestic violence and unwed motherhood take a back seat to the nervousness of asking a girl to dance. Realism aside, the approach represents a laudable change of cinematic direction, thankfully askew from the pessimism and condescending crudeness of recent offerings.
   Whether or not the filmmakers will be able to parlay such honesty and idealism into profitable boxoffice is another matter. Working from a story co-conceived with USC professor Todd Boyd, first-time writer/director Rick Famuyiwa and his first-rate cast have made a moving, memorable film that will nonetheless remain stigmatized as an "ethnic" movie without the careful and painstaking marketing required to attract a crossover audience.
   Shy of the success they deserve, the filmmakers can at least take solace in having uncompromisingly adhered to a most praiseworthy vision. Starring Taye Diggs, Omar Epps, Richard T. Jones, Sean Nelson, Duane Finley, Trent Cameron and Malinda Williams. Directed and written by Rick Famuyiwa. Produced by Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa and David Gale. A Paramount release. Drama. Rated R for strong language and some strong sexuality. Running time: 107 min
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