DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: TALK TO ME

Monday, 29 October 2007


Talk to Me (2007) dir. Kasi Lemmons
Starring: Don Cheadle, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Martin Sheen


“Talk to Me” intrigued me as worthy viewing based on the ten-year old reputation of “Eve’s Bayou”. A film which I haven’t seen, but will always remember from Roger Ebert’s glowing 1997 review. Unfortunately Lemmon’s latest film about 60’s/70’s controversial African-American DJ Petey Greene is a typical middle of the road biopic, an HBO MOW at best pushed to the theatres based on the star power of Don Cheadle.

Petey Greene (Don Cheadle) was a thug serving time in a Washington D.C. prison when he caught the attention of local radio programming director Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Dewey first hears Greene’s profane radio act over the PA system while visiting a friend in prison. Dewey is casually introduced to Greene, who is as loud and obnoxious in person as he is over the air. After Greene gets out, he pursues Dewey to put him on the radio with steadfast determination. Everyone in the station is turned off by the in-your-face persona of Greene, but Dewey sees a connection with the black audience that is lacking with his current programming. Dewey takes a chance and puts him on the air. And the rest is obscure radio history.

Dewey and Greene’s career spans the civil rights period in the late 60’s and early 70’s. But as Greene becomes more popular Dewey’s dreams of success become larger and larger. Dewey becomes Greene’s manager and he moves his act into stand-up, TV talk shows and eventually the peak of entertainment, “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson”. The success takes a toll on their partnership and they eventually split up, only to reform years later for one last gig.

Essentially the film is about the relationship between two opposite personalities. Greene, the talented showman with an alcohol problem, and Dewey, his conservative manager who harnesses and guides Greene’s talent into areas he was never meant to go. When they make it to “The Tonight Show” Greene’s act has become too diluted he feels like a sell out. At this point in his career Greene realizes there’s more to life than success - ‘keeping it real’ splits the team apart.

Basically I’ve just recycled every celebrity team’s rise and fall formula. Most recently it was “Dreamgirls”, but “Talk to Me” does nothing to alter the formula. We never get the sense of Greene’s talent for talk either. By following the formula the film has to showcase the talent of artist – like the tremendous musical sequences in “Dreamgirls”. Unfortunately Cheadle, though a great actor, doesn’t show us Greene’s true magnetism. Compare this performance to the portrayal of Barry Champlain, the doomed shock jock in Oliver Stone’s “Talk Radio”. Similar subject matter, elevated above formula by Eric Bogosian’s commanding performance. If Bogosian never acted again, he could have been a successful radio DJ. Cheadle never embodies Greene, he just acts like him.

“Talk to Me” is also filled with too many silly and contrived scenes that lesson the power of the story. The usual hard-ass near heart attack role by Martin Sheen as the station manager and Greene’s bombastic bimbo girlfriend make for lame slapstick comedy.

Here’s footage of the real Petey Greene:

No comments :