Without a doubt there was never a film that made me eat humble pie like this one did, as after one viewing I panned this film as one of the worst I had ever seen. I even remember the moment vividly, as a junior in high school and already a dedicated fan of Lee’s work, I went to class the next day and shared my thoughts to anyone who would listen, unwilling to believe that such a film could be that bad. Despite subconsciously knowing that neither my teachers or classmates even remotely cared for what I was talking about, the reality was despite how negative my reaction was, I couldn’t get the film off my mind. The result was that I watched it a second time, and then a third time, and then enough times to realize that my initial review could not have been more wrong. She Hate Me is not a perfect film, but there are many redeeming qualities that are sometimes a struggle to look for even though they aren’t too hard to find.
With that being said this film has a plot so convoluted that it’s virtually impossible to follow. I’m not sure where the motivation lies but at times it seems Lee is determined to cram as many sub plots into two hours as humanly possible, and in this case it takes away from the film’s best quality as an exploration of the world’s most complicated relationship. Anthony Mackie plays the very remarkable and highly successful Jack Armstrong, who as a young African American is quickly making a name for himself in the world of medicine and biotechnology. One day Jack goes to work and a colleague that he trusts and respects commits suicide in front of his very eyes. The doctor had been looking for the cure for AIDS, and it’s presumed by Jack that he decided to take his life as a reaction to certain forms of malpractice within the firm. As Jack begins to ask questions his own livelihood is put in jeopardy as he’s framed by his employers and is falsely accused by the Securities Exchange Commission.
As heavy as all that sounds, all that truly represents is the set up for the film’s main storyline, which is finally set in motion when Jack’s doorbell rings. Kerry Washington is the ultimate femme fatale and with Dania Ramirez by her side there is enough sensuality to make any man crumble, or prosper, all depending on how you look at it. Washington plays Mackie’s ex fiancee Fatima who now lives with her girlfriend Alex, played by Ramirez. Jack cut ties with Fatima after he caught her in bed with another woman, yet now with his life in ruins she decides to persuade him to revive their love through a provocative business venture. Basically the gist of it is that Fatima and Alex want Jack to impregnate them, and they want to pay him for it, handsomely. Furthermore they have dozens of women lined up that want the same service, and despite any moral objections the women know they have leverage, as by not taking the offer Jack won’t have a way to maintain the lavish lifestyle that as a honest man he worked so hard for. So it’s cash for sex, unprotected sex, with lesbian women who believe that fertility rates are higher through intercourse as opposed to in vitro, an apparent fact that Lee explores with much enthusiasm.
The actual sex scenes are hardly appealing but truly fascinating, as Lee takes a realistic approach to the bedroom that resembles a trainwreck you can’t help but watch. If there’s any chemistry at all it’s between Jack and Fatima and no one else, as the rest of the sex is too awkward to be stimulated by, hence the realism that Lee should actually be applauded for and not scrutinized. Instead the sex is filled with angst, humor, and even culture, as Jack is open to the customs of each woman he takes to bed, and to his credit is a gentleman who doesn’t objectify anyone. However where the film undeniably goes left are the cartoon segments that illustrate reproduction, scenes that I abhorred at first, that now I’m more or less indifferent to. Essentially there is no doubt that Lee took risks with this film, and while at times they may look foolish, it’s otherwise a testament to a director who has the courage to paint with such abstract colors.
Ultimately where the film winds up is too complex to delineate, an indictment of the plot of a film that otherwise has unforgettable performances and memorable scenes throughout it. For example there’s no use explaining how John Turturro finds his way into the script, yet his role as a mafioso is hysterical as he expresses his contempt for how rap stars want to be “geneovese’s and lucchesi’s,” nevermind the fact that this inference has nothing to do with anything. Instead a rap star that identifies more with aural hygiene (Q Tip) offers added hilarious discourse as he speculates on how much compensation those with great fame and talent would get for their desired genetics. Otherwise a flashback sequence comparing Jack’s character to the security guard that blew the whistle on Watergate is intriguing and effective, despite the reality it’s an additional plotline to a film that is already doing way too much.
In conclusion this film has many highs and many lows, but you can make a case that where it soars it’s divine and where it’s shallow it’s empty, nonetheless it’s beautiful where it counts. While the cinematography is captivating the performances between Mackie, Washington, and Ramirez are also magnetic, yet despite all that competition the performer who shines the brightest is the one who wrote the score. Terence Blanchard the Jazz musician and longtime collaborator of Lee turns in some phenomenal music for this film, and as time has passed i’ve noticed that the score is the film’s finest quality. The final kiss is amplified by the medley of instruments Blanchard puts behind it, and it’s almost wizardry how he makes such an outrageous film feel almost magical. An additional song performed by Raul Midon during the end credits is another favorite of mine, and it’s the perfect exclamation point for a film that goes outside the margins. Nonetheless while I understand why my initial reaction to this film was so unfavorable, I’m thankful that I took a closer look to appreciate this work of art for what it truly is.