Review: She’s Gotta Have It (1986)

She’s Gotta Have It (1986)

Directed by: Spike Lee | 84 minutes | comedy, romance | Actors: Tracy Camilla Johns, Tommy Redmond Hicks, John Canada Terrell, Spike Lee, Raye Dowell, Joie Lee, S. Epatha Merkerson, Bill Lee, Cheryl Burr, Aaron Dugger, Stephanie Covington, Renata Cobbs

One debut is not the other. Some debutants are far from ripe, others seem to have been around for centuries. The latter certainly applies to the debut of the almost legendary Spike Lee. He made his debut in 1986 with the romantic art house comedy ‘She’s Gotta Have It’. A postmodern morality sketch, in black and white, with a musical intermezzo in color and a (then) fairly original form. And it all still worked.

In ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ we meet young African-American beauty Nola Darling. Nola is a kind of artist, who spends her days and nights satisfying an above-average sex drive. After shedding quite a few dudes, she settles down to three boyfriends and one lesbian admirer (with whom it all remains platonic). Those friends are quite different: a joker, a serious type and a vain narcissist. Plenty of variety, but can those boyfriends settle for a shared girlfriend?

In ‘She’s Gotta Have It’, Spike Lee was way ahead of the poly-amorous trend of the 21st century. The documentary form – interviews with the characters, interspersed with scenes from their lives – had been done before, but at the time it turned out to be still refreshing. What you didn’t see often then were the cheerful sex scenes. Happy sex, not too hard or intense, with plenty of room for cozy post-coital chatter too. Apart from a nasty scene with forced sex, which really doesn’t seem to belong in the film.

Before his debut, Lee looked especially closely at fellow townsman Woody Allen. The stylish black and white, the jazzy musical setting, relational bickering, sharp humor and even the documentary set-up (Allen made the great fake documentary ‘Zelig’ three years earlier). But also the way Lee shows New York, the beautiful places where you only meet locals instead of tourists. That in this case it is about Brooklyn and not about Manhattan is of secondary importance.

The only thing that pinches a little is the discrepancy between natural characters (Jamie, Nola) and characters that tend towards caricatures (Mars, Greer). But with its delightful dialogue, tasteful visuals and the hilarious Thanksgiving dinner to which all the pals are invited, ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ has become a timeless classic. A debut to cherish, apart from that one rotten scene.

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