After returning home just a few minutes after his curfew, Collin (Daveed Diggs) is reminded by his probation officer, James (Kevin Caroll), that he’s a convicted felon until proven otherwise. “Prove otherwise at all times,” James adds. It’s a stern warning spoken not as a parole officer to a parolee but as one black man to another—to prepare Collin for the prejudices he’ll face as a young black man who also happens to be an ex-con. Carlos López Estrada’s Blindspotting is full of such well-meaning gestures, and they’re so uneasily forthright in their delivery that one almost expects the characters to glare directly into the camera to ensure that the audience gets the message.
The disconnect created by this recurrent speechifying and the otherwise low-key account of Collin’s reintegration into a rapidly gentrifying Oakland is even further exacerbated by the filmmakers’ decision to touch upon a wide range of topics while disjointedly bouncing between broad comedy, weighty drama, and proto-rap. The sudden deviation into incendiary spoken word is effective in the film’s sole dream sequence because the otherwise jarring, anomalous method of vocal delivery facilitates the surreal nature of the scene. But the few other times that characters break suddenly from regular conversation feel entirely arbitrary. It’s a ballsy stylistic gambit that brings to mind Spike Lee’s early work, though more the oft-grating sermonizing of School Daze than the equally grandiose but more formally unified Do the Right Thing.
When Blindspotting keeps things simple and zeroes in on the complicated lifelong friendship between Collin and Miles (Rafael Casal), an unruly white Hispanic dude with a knack for needlessly escalating situations that get Collin into trouble, there’s a sense of purpose to the film. The interplay between Collin and Miles has a looseness and authenticity that conveys in shorthand the decades of bonding and bickering that helped to solidify their unhealthily codependent relationship. Though Blindspotting touches on Miles’s unacknowledged privilege and how it stokes Miles’s own self-destructive tough-guy persona, the film rarely delves into the depths of each man’s resentment for the other. Collin’s frustration at having to face the consequences of Miles’s macho posturing and Miles’s anger toward Collin for not fully appreciating his loyalty only surface in a meaningful way during an explosive argument after Miles pulls a gun on someone at a party.
Outside of depicting the fragility of Miles and Collin’s tumultuous friendship, Blindspotting is often left rudderless, taking aim at myriad targets and bluntly satirizing them in disparate styles that never mesh into a cohesive whole. While much of the film’s commentary on gentrification remains on the lighter side—the fight that Collin had with an obnoxious hipster and landed him in jail is related in flashback and played for laughs—scenes lampooning gun and police violence go all-in on shamelessly manipulative melodrama. Miles’s son’s inevitable discovery of his loaded gun feels like a deleted scene from Crash, while Collin’s showdown with the cop (Ethan Embry) he witnessed shooting an unarmed black kid loses its emotional tension once Collin clumsily and unexpectedly starts throwing shade at the man in spoken word.
In his confrontation with the cop, Collin not only cringe-inducingly spouts Blindspotting’s overriding message about the often-overlooked perils of life as a person of color in gentrified urban spaces, he even goes to great lengths to explain the meaning of the film’s title. The moment is emblematic of a film that, while authentically capturing the innumerable social forces acting upon the world’s young black and brown people, bites off more than it can chew, leaving it too muddled for its various critiques to land much of a blow.