Small Axe: Lovers Rock (2020) Review

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Lovers Rock

Time: 70 Minutes
Cast:
Micheal Ward as Franklyn Cooper
Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn as Martha Trenton
Kedar Williams-Stirling as Clifton
Director: Steve McQueen

A single evening at a house party in 1980s West London sets the scene, developing intertwined relationships against a background of violence, romance and music.

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After watching Mangrove, I was interested in checking out the rest of the movies in director Steve McQueen’s film anthology Small Axe. While each of the films don’t tie into each other, I decided to watch the next movie which was released, that being Lovers Rock. I had heard some high praise for the movie, being called one of the best of the anthology. The best thing I can say about Lovers Rock is that it’s distinctly different from Mangrove, making the entry special within the anthology. It’s a reasonably decent movie and I’m glad that I watched it, however I just couldn’t get into it as much as other people did.

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The plot of Lovers Rock depicts the events of one night at a 1980s West London house party. Everything happens at this party from chaos, budding relationships, music, and everything in between. It really is such a different movie from what Steve McQueen has made, and I’m not just talking about Mangrove. It’s comparatively lighthearted for the most part and isn’t as intense. Unlike Mangrove, it focuses less on the plot and characters, instead mainly focusing on the atmosphere and setting. The movie is fairly plotless, and you spend most of the time among the small community and watch their little dramas, relationships and traumas that happen over this one night. Lovers Rock is what many people call a hangout or vibe movie, and unfortunately I’ve found that hangout movies aren’t really my thing, and this film is not really an exception. I do wish there was a little more happening character wise, the characters don’t have much depth outside of a few basic traits. Generally, I found the narrative to be quite confusing and didn’t know what was happening, especially during the party, which is most of the movie. One could say that this could potentially be done to get the vibe or headspace of being at a party, but I’m not sure I should be feeling exactly this confused. The actual party, which takes up the majority of the movie, gets repetitive and overstays its welcome. I liked the atmosphere but after a while I got over it and started wishing for more from the actual movie. But for many, the atmosphere might be enough. I do understand that I might be in a minority of people. Again, I’m not really big on ‘hangout’ or vibe movies generally. Nonetheless, I still think that it’s a good entry in this anthology and does feel like it actually fits in it. Like with Mangrove and other McQueen movies there are some strong themes on display. The topics of racial discrimination and sexual harassment are highlighted multiple times in the film. Lovers Rock has a lighter tone from Mangrove, but still feels real and honest, and the characters are still surrounded by dark forces outside and you are aware of them. The movie clocks in at about 70 minutes, and while I’m definitely not going to say I was invested throughout, that was an okay length for the type of movie it is.

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I don’t have a huge amount to say about the acting, but everyone played their parts well, the standouts being Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn, Micheal Ward and Daniel Francis-Swaby. While I don’t think the characterisation was great, I have no issue with the acting at all.

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Steve McQueen directs this movie, and his work here is the best part of Lovers Rock. The stylistic elements are on point here. Much of the movie is just the house party and there is some great filmmaking and editing on display. Mangrove was shot well, but visually wasn’t anything special. Lovers Rock on the other hand is gorgeously shot and top notch from beginning to end. The camerawork has a naturalistic feel to it which further emphasises the free-flowing nature of the party. The soundtrack is great, with classic R&B, jazz, blues, reggae and rock, and overall is very catchy and captivating. I’ve not really been to parties so I can’t say this for sure, but I imagine that it captures the energy of a night out.

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Lovers Rock is atmospheric, visually stunning, and excellently directed by Steve McQueen. However, this plotless hangout/vibe movie didn’t quite work for me. I wasn’t really that invested, and I couldn’t really connect with it despite its strengths. With that said, it’s still a great addition to the Small Axe anthology. This movie will work for some people more than others. As it is, I liked the movie and I do think that it’s worth watching for sure.

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