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Review: Constellation

Walker-Pearlman’s sloppiness as a filmmaker would seem to be an outgrowth of his general unfamiliarity with plausible human behavior.

Photo: Freestyle Releasing

It’s tempting to dismiss writer-director Jordan Walker-Pearlman’s Constellation as a TV movie-quality feature, but such a description nonetheless probably sells TV movies short. Charting the reunion of the Boxer family at the funeral for their matriarch, Carmel, the film is a one-way trip to Schmaltzville, which would be okay if the journey itself weren’t so intolerably bumpy and the destination didn’t prove so completely lousy.

Via superfluous camera movements and swelling sad songs, the film details the plight of Carmel’s brother, Helms (Billy Dee Williams). After being tricked into attending his sister’s service, the man is forced to deal with his ex-wife (Lesley Ann Warren), ex-lover (Rae Dawn Chong), two daughters (Melissa De Sousa and Zoe Saldana), and a white man, Bear (David Clennon), who deserted Carmel during the anti-miscegenation ‘50s—leading to Carmel being violently raped—but maintained a loving letter correspondence with her until her death.

Troubled interracial relationships are littered throughout, yet black-white tensions are secondary to Walker-Pearlman’s overriding and incessantly articulated theme about seizing (rather than fleeing) opportunities for love. Even so, repetitive preachiness is a minor problem compared to the film’s unnatural conversational rhythms, ineptly overlapped dialogue, protracted shots of characters staring off into the distance, horrid ADR work, and plenty of visual incongruities involving Carmel, who was relatively old when she died but is played in flashbacks by 34-year-old Gabrielle Union—a decision that leads to clumsy scenes such as Union pretending to be Saldana’s adult aunt despite their meager six-year age difference.

This rampant carelessness peaks with a round-robin climax of reconciliations that’s painfully unearned, since Walker-Pearlman skips dramatizing the reasons why Constellation’s husbands, wives, fathers, daughters, and lovers might want to forgive each other. Although, as he confirms with a married couple’s ludicrous make-out session in a car while the woman’s mother sits in the backseat, Walker-Pearlman’s sloppiness is, at least in part, an outgrowth of his general unfamiliarity with plausible human behavior.

Cast: Ever Carradine, David Clennon, Rae Dawn Chong, Melissa De Sousa, Hill Harper, Alec Newman, Zoe Saldana, Lesley Ann Warren, Billy Dee Williams, Gabrielle Union Director: Jordan Walker-Pearlman Screenwriter: Jordan Walker-Pearlman Distributor: Freestyle Releasing Running Time: 96 min Rating: PG-13 Year: 2005 Buy: Video

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