Consider this film the warm up to The Best Man.
Review (with Spoilers)
Though I’ve seen The Wood in .gif sets and random mentions, due to it being released during the great Black renaissance of film in the 90s, it was never really on my radar. If just because, for one, I was born in the early 90s, and also because between The Best Man, Jason’s Lyric, Love & Basketball, and many others, those films were the ones set on a pedestal and heralded as some of the best Black movies of the 90s, if not ever. Making you wonder if The Wood just got swept up because there was so many good movies that what it provided was more so normal than exemplary, or if maybe it was a disappointment? Hence why despite Omar Epps, Taye Diggs, and Sanaa Lathan being in it, their other movies from the 90s are the go to ones when you bring their names up.
Characters & Story
The story splits the focus between Mike (Omar Epps/ Sean Nelson), Slim (Richard T. Jones/ Duane Finley), and Roland (Taye Diggs/ Trent Cameron). As adults, the focus is Roland’s upcoming marriage to Lisa (LisaRaye McCoy) which he is getting cold feet about. To the point he goes to Tanya’s (Tamala Jones) house, the woman who was his first love, after getting ridiculously drunk. From there, the boys reminisce about how far they have come, when they were making bets about grabbing girls’ booties, getting the most numbers, or who would lose their virginity first, to becoming men. Though when the film focuses on the past, Roland isn’t the featured character but Mike. Which leads to an about even split between the movie focusing on Roland’s problems in the present, and Mike’s relationship with his boys, as well as his love interest Alicia (Sanaa Lathan/ Malinda Williams). Making for an interesting take on the coming-of-age sub-genre.
Before I watched this movie, I didn’t see The Wood as one of the best films with a Black majority cast, from the 90s or ever, but I felt my opinion was instantly changed as soon as the jokes started rolling in. For with Mike and Slim breaking the 4th wall, and not taking any of Roland’s BS, and them cracking jokes on each other, you see a beautiful brotherhood. One which likely suffered some trials and tribulations, but overall I don’t think these men could think of anyone else they would want to share their joy or pain with.
As for their younger selves, to me, that is where the best parts of the movie come from. If just because it seems so rare to find coming of age stories featuring young Black or Brown people which don’t have heavy handed topics like we see in Precious or Pariah. And while Alicia’s brother was a Blood, there isn’t some overdone examinations of gang culture and all that. These young men are just horny teens who want to get with a cute girl, and for Mike, make love to the one who really mattered.
Leading to perhaps the sole issues I have with this movie: Taye Diggs and the storyline of the adult versions of Mike, Slim and Roland. You see, in the film, as noted, the present day features Roland getting cold feet and getting drunk. Something which Taye Diggs doesn’t play well in a comical, nor deep, way at all. In fact, he comes off so annoying you really do hope Slim will punch him in the face. Though what is the real problem with Roland is that he seems like an odd person to focus on. If just because Mike is the focus of their early years together and during that time Roland, much less Slim, aren’t developed to the point you feel like you should give a damn about them as adults. Also, what doesn’t help is Mike is so likable and charismatic that honestly it makes you question why in the adult years are we focused on Roland marrying Lisa? Especially when, after who knows how many years, Mike is getting to see Alicia for the first time. And with their relationship being built up so much when they were kids, the little we get to see when they are adults seems like a wasted opportunity. Add on us meeting Tanya, Roland’s first love, and us not fully understanding why they broke up, much less why Roland and Lisa got together, and honestly it makes the story of the adults pale in comparison to what their younger selves have for a story.
Overall: TV Viewing
While certainly the films which are better remembered, and more often named, aren’t without issues, they are a bit more consistent. And, in all honestly, despite The Best Man coming out after this movie, this seems like the type of film which wasted a good story that Malcom D. Lee just so happened to have already planned to capitalize on. For getting cold feet before marriage, and having drama on the way to the altar, is a good premise. Especially when you add in this idea of the best man trying to make sure one of their close friends make it to the alter; however, between the kids having a better story than the adults, and Roland being a terrible focus considering how much Mike was built up, I have to label this as TV Viewing. For while the problems of the film certainly don’t make this something which shouldn’t be considered a classic, it is just the main plot it sort-of focuses on was sadly done better months after its release.