“17 Blocks” is probably not pushing hard enough against the reactionary, Puritan, possibly racist readings of the Sanford family’s misery as it should have, in order to more aptly protect them from bad faith interpretations – including that of the Sanford family. Cheryl. She often seems to blame all the horrible things that happen to her family on her addiction, and it’s only very late in the movie that we learn that her addiction didn’t come on out of the blue: it very obviously seems a form of self-medication in reaction to gang rape by a group of young men when she was barely a teenager. And one of the virtues of the film, its compactness, is often a handicap. He divorces the suffering of the family from the social and political context. Most of the time, you just need to infer the broader effects of racism, de facto segregation, financial redlining, and anonymous military-style police occupations in black neighborhoods (roaring helicopters and lights flashing red and blue are a constant) on families like the Sanfords. Steve James and Stanley Nelson, to name just two filmmakers who often tell stories about black families, manage to weave it all into equally sentiment-driven stories, so it’s not like it’s impossible to succeed.
Overall, however, this is a captivating and often extraordinary feature. Sometimes he suggests a non-fictional, black, downtown response to a sprawling, mostly white, dramatic feature film, like Richard Linkalter’s “Boyhood” or Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life”, where (by all means at their arrangement) directors give you a sense of not only the characters crossing a river of time, but also the families struggling to make sense of the changes that are happening all around them: in communities, in households and on their own faces when they look in mirrors and photographs. There are many touching motives in the film that have to do with repeating basic actions or conversations at different times in the family’s existence: for example, a mother or one of her children commenting on her appearance in pictures from different times, or an adult asking a child to talk about what he wants to be or what he is afraid of. There is a subtle aspect of horror film that will be familiar to anyone who has been part of or witnessed a family of many drug addicts: As soon as a generation is old enough to start using / abusing, the viewer starts to feel worrying that the cycle is going to happen again, because that is how these things unfortunately tend to play out.
Some of the most heart-wrenching images in “17 Blocks” come from the children and / or Cheryl documenting the practical effect of drug addiction on their families: the screaming fights between mom and children. or mom and her boyfriend; boys who drink and smoke dulls in their mother’s house when they are still young enough to attend “kids” priced movies; mom crawling on the carpet, apparently looking for a lost hiding place. But the vast majority of the images simply portray the life of working-class urban black Americans in the late 20th and early 20th centuries, not in an exploitative or salacious way, but in an ordinary touching way: the places meeting and barbecues, pranks and games. , the meals and the last drinks, the quiet moments when adults and children are sitting thinking, listening to music, playing games, taking a nap. The stuff of ordinary life.