Constellation

2007, Movie, PG-13, 105 mins

Review

CONSTELLATION
starstarstarstar
Writer-director Jordan Walker-Pearlman's talky family drama parses the complicated relations of the Huntington-based Boxer family. A brief prologue set in the early 1950s establishes the forbidden relationship between Carmel Boxer (Gabrielle Union) and Bear Korngold (Daniel Bess): He's white, she's African-American, and Alabama is aggressively segregated. Carmel's little brother, Helms (Tre Rogers), keeps watch when they meet secretly, but she defies convention to see Bear off at the train station after he's drafted. An ugly, racially motivated scuffle ensues, and the incident drives a wedge between them. Nevertheless, they remain in close touch, each pining for the other without being able to transcend the past.

In the present, the family is gathering for Carmel's funeral. Helms (Billy Dee Williams), a well-known painter, lives in Paris, sees little of his children and starts plotting his departure even as his daughter, eager-to-please Lucy (Melissa De Sousa), meets him at the airport. Helms' complicated, interracial clan includes ex-wives Nancy (Lesley Ann Warren) and Juanita (Rae Dawn Chong), Juanita's unhappy daughter Rosa (Zoe Saldana), Rosa's ex-boyfriend Errol (Hill Harper) and Lucy's husband Kent (Alec Newman). Bear (David Clennon) and his niece Celeste (Ever Carradine) are also coming; Celeste and Rosa, once best friends, fell out when Celeste dated Errol after he and Rosa split up. The stage is set for emotional pyrotechnics that never quite materialize, because for all their squabbles, grudges and grievances, they all basically love each other and had the utmost respect for Carmel, whose last wish was that they come together to mourn her passing and, by implication, repair their frayed relationships. So they talk things out at exhaustive length, with breaks for flashbacks.

There are effective scenes and powerful performances scattered among long sequences in which various members of the family gaze into space as they contemplate the burden of the past, walk aimlessly through Hunstville, Alabama, or have odd encounters with strangers that force them to think about their attitudes. But they're separated by those windy conversations, which ramble and get bogged down in repetition, just like the real thing. That's not necessarily a virtue, and it clutters what might have been an engaging drama rooted in family ties and in the social and political developments of the '60s, which came too late for Carmel and Bear but in time to dramatically alter the lives of Helms and his children. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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