Both annoying and vibrant, casually plotted and deeply personal, Spike Lee’s Crooklyn ends up being as compelling as it is messy. Fictionalized look at the filmmaker’s family life during the early 1970s [from a screen story by Joie Susannah Lee] is loud, grating, disorganized and off-putting for more than half its running time, but eventually jells into an exceedingly vivid portrait of a specific household.
The Carmichaels live in a spacious, eclectically furnished brownstone in Brooklyn. Woody, the patriarch (Delroy Lindo), is a jazz musician at a career standstill. His wife, Carolyn (Alfre Woodard), teaches school to pay the bills, and fights a losing battle trying to control her five children. Family life consists of almost constant hollering and arguing.
Pic takes a turn, both in narrative and style, when, after an hour, the family packs up the Citroen convertible and heads south, where daughter Troy (Zelda Harris) will spend the summer with a middle-class uncle and aunt. Long section devoted to the girl’s unhappy stay there is shot so that the images appear squeezed (as if a widescreen film were to be shown in a normal aspect ratio). It’s here that the film begins to focus on one character.
More than three dozen period tunes are slapped onto the action, skillfully at times, awkwardly and arbitrarily at others. Performances are mostly high voltage, led by Woodard as the mother understandably about to come apart at the seams.