Brown Sugar

Brown Sugar

2002, PG-13, 109 min. Directed by Rick Famuyiwa. Starring Taye Diggs, Sanaa Lathan, Nicole Ari Parker, Ralph E. Tresvant, Mos Def, Boris Kodjoe, Queen Latifah.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Oct. 11, 2002

Brown Sugar's opening credits play out to the Roots' “Act Too (Love of My Life),” with its thrumming, soulful chorus of “Hip-hop, you the love of my life.” It's a perfect complement to what's happening onscreen: Flash interviews with some of hip-hop's leading artists and innovators, like Slick Rick, Big Daddy Kane, and the Roots' ?uestlove, all riffing on the moment they fell hard for hip-hop. Curiously, the credits mark both the film's high and low point, depending on the audience. For hip-hop enthusiasts (and anyone, really, who can recall finding a sound that felt like finding a home), the minutes-long tribute is a soul-stirrer. For a general audience, though, that trips over names like Talib Kweli and Ghostface Killah with the same perplexity as a Tolstoyian Grinevich, Dmitrievich, or Ivanovich, the credits are probably a mystery. That said, Brown Sugar settles shortly into a pleasant, if generic, romantic comedy -- a boon to the general audience, a bust to those looking for a strength of spirit equivalent to that of the opening. As with the real-life artists, Lathan's music journalist Sidney poses the same question to each of her subjects: When did you fall in love with hip-hop? For Sidney, that moment came in 1984, when she heard Doug E. Fresh and the Get Fresh crew freestyle in a Bronx playground. Not coincidentally, that's also when she first met Dre, who became her best friend and fellow hip-hop devotee. All grown up, Dre (Diggs) is an exec at Millennium Records, a company too concerned with the bling-bling, and less so with producing good music. Still, Dre trudges listlessly ahead, mostly because the big bucks he makes keep his fiancée happy. Further complicating his life is the ongoing push and pull between Sidney and him -- best friends determined to stay platonic, yet plagued by a lingering “what if?” The audience of course, knows the answer (punctuated by a frustrated “duh,” as the two circle and sniff, yet maddeningly fail to connect). The cast is a uniformly charming lot. Rapper and stage actor (last seen in the Pulitzer Prize-winning play Top Dog/Underdog) Mos Def is a scrunch-shouldered, rascally delight, stealing the show despite a smallish role as one of Dre's clients and the self-described “Peter Lorre” to Sid and Dre's Bergman & Bogart. His shuffle-footed flirtation with the older, physically imposing Queen Latifah is irresistible. The same can't be said for the whole of the film; the script (by Michael Elliot and director Famuyiwa) vacillates between smart, snappy dialogue and wheezing plot points, between inspired hip-hop homilies and creaky romantic-comedy constructs. With all its emphasis on beat, Brown Sugar can't maintain a steady one, yet when it finds it, the film surely soars.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Rick Famuyiwa Films
Peppy caper film features unusual characters: black high school geeks

Marjorie Baumgarten, June 19, 2015

Our Family Wedding
This is a formulaic wedding comedy about mismatched families, but thanks to several appealing performances, this rote exercise turns out better than most.

Marjorie Baumgarten, March 12, 2010

More by Kimberley Jones
We Have an Issue: Politics as Performance, Political Activism as Performance Art
We Have an Issue: Politics as Performance, Political Activism as Performance Art
In this week's issue: postmortem on the Ken Paxton impeachment trial, a profile of drag powerhouse Brigitte Bandit, and finalists revealed in the Best of Austin: Restaurants Readers Poll (get voting, y'all!)

Sept. 22, 2023

Austin Film Festival to Celebrate <i>Lost</i>'s Damon Lindelof With Outstanding TV Writer Award
Austin Film Festival to Celebrate Lost's Damon Lindelof With Outstanding TV Writer Award
Fall fest also adds All of Us Strangers, The Holdovers

Sept. 14, 2023


Brown Sugar, Rick Famuyiwa, Taye Diggs, Sanaa Lathan, Nicole Ari Parker, Ralph E. Tresvant, Mos Def, Boris Kodjoe, Queen Latifah

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle