Saturday, February 22, 2014

Aaron Loves Angela (1975)



          It’s tempting to theorize that the urban romance Aaron Loves Angela contains a heavy crime element simply because the film’s producers worried that audiences would not flock to a low-budget race-themed movie in 1975 unless the movie included the movie had a blaxploitation vibe. The reason this thought comes to mind is that the drugs-and-hookers stuff in Aaron Loves Angela is so incidental to the main story that it could be extracted without making much difference. But then again, the main story is so threadbare that any attempt at adding dramatic weight, no matter how awkward, is appreciated. Essentially a Romeo-and-Juliet tale about an African-American boy romancing a Puerto Rican girl, Aaron Loves Angela is underwhelming in every way.
          When the story begins, wannabe basketball star Aaron (Kevin Hooks) and intellectually ambitious schoolgirl Angela (Irene Cara) already know each other, so the audience is deprived the magic of their first meeting. Obstacles to their courtship seem minor, because Aaron’s drunken father, Ike (Moses Gunn), wants the boy to focus on his athletic development, and Angela’s relatives (never shown onscreen) presumably want her to steer clear of boys until she’s through with school. To compensate for this lack of conflict, the filmmakers integrate a weak subplot about a pimp named Beau (Robert Hooks), who wants to escape street life by arranging a sketchy drug deal and ripping off crooks for a quarter-million in cash. Meanwhile, Aaron and Angela establish a love nest in the same tenement building where Beau stashes his dope. The inevitable intersection of these storylines is neither believable nor meaningful.
          Plus, while scenes of Aaron at home with his starry-eyed dad have some heft simply because of Gunn’s acting skill, the romantic stuff is flat and trite. Cara, who later became a singing star in addition to her acting work, comes across like a supporting player shoved into the limelight; although naturalistic, Cara lacks leading-lady charisma. Similarly, Kevin Hooks is so bland he gets overshadowed by every actor with whom he shares scenes—even real-life basketball great Walt Frazier, a non-actor who struggles through his brief cameo appearance. Speaking of cameos, blind Puerto Rican singing star José Feliciano shows up briefly to croon a tune during a nightclub scene, and he also composed and performed the movie’s score, which features a combination of background music and original songs. Especially when Aaron Loves Angela gets stuck in airy love-montage sequences, Feliciano’s lively music is the best part of the picture.
           Aaron Loves Angela was directed by the singularly unimpressive Gordon Parks Jr., who made his cinematic debut by helming the blaxploitation hit Super Fly (1972). The filmmaker’s father, famed photographer Gordon Parks, helmed several far superior pictures, including The Learning Tree (1969) and Shaft (1971).

Aaron Loves Angela: FUNKY

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