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Spike Lee
Tracy Camilla Johns, Tommy Redmond Hicks, John Canada Terrell, Spike Lee, Raye Dowell, Joie Lee, S. Epatha Merkerson, Bill Lee
Writing Credits:
Spike Lee

A Seriously Sexy Comedy.

The story of Nola Darling's simultaneous sexual relationships with three different men is told by her and by her partners and other friends. All three men wanted her to commit solely to them; Nola resists being "owned" by a single partner.

Box Office:
$160 thousand.
Opening Weekend
$28.473 thousand on 1 screen.
Domestic Gross
$7.137 million.

Rated R

Widescreen 1.66:1/16X9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 85 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 1/15/2008

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She's Gotta Have It (1986)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 30, 2008)

When I realized that this 2008 DVD of Spike Lee’s 1986 debut She’s Gotta Have It marked the film’s debut in the format, I felt shocked. How was it possible that such a well-regarded and important flick never hit DVD? I don’t know, but now that it’s here, I can revisit Gotta for the first time in decades.

The film focuses on single girl about town Nola Darling (Tracy Camila Johns). She has no trouble meeting men; her problem comes from deciding which guy is the one for her. Three suitors compete for Nola’s heart. There’s Jamie Overstreet (Redmond Hicks), a nice, romantic guy with some jealousy problems, and there’s also Greer Childs (John Terrell), a suave model who might be a little too stuck on himself for his own good. As the dark horses, we find pint-sized, motor-mouthed bicycle messenger Mars Blackmon (Lee) and lesbian Opal Gilstrap (Raye Dowell). Nola claims she doesn’t go that way, but Opal holds out hope she can open up her Sapphic side. The movie follows Nola’s quest for love – or at least her attempts to settle on one partner for the time being.

Spike Lee burst on the scene with enormous energy when he created Gotta. Indeed, the film’s influence and success opened doors for many filmmakers to come. Black directors were a rarity 20 plus years ago, whereas now it’s not nearly as unusual or as big a deal. It’s not dissimilar to black quarterbacks in the NFL; while Doug Williams received a lot of fuss in the 1988 Super Bowl, now no one says a word when a non-white QB does well.

Impact and importance aside, does Gotta still work as a film? To be honest, not really. As I mentioned earlier, I’d not seen Gotta in years, and I think I’d taken in almost every other Lee flick in the interim. Lee’s work has serious ups and downs, but I must admit I prefer most of the others to what I saw here.

Gotta clearly represents a first rough draft of a filmmaker in training. Lee would reach maturity as a director with 1989’s Do the Right Thing, but even the flawed follow-up School Daze worked better than the amateurish Gotta. Daze was a mess of half-baked ideas, but it had its moments, and at least it featured a much more polished tone.

Rough-hewn isn’t necessarily bad, but in the case of Gotta, the results seem too unfinished to make it work. This is especially apparent during the first half, which doesn’t really click. Matters improve as the film proceeds, especially when Nola actually introduces all of her male suitors to each other. The Thanksgiving sequence offers a hint of how good the flick could’ve been if it’d been more fully realized. While it still has its ups and downs, that dinner party scene shows real sparks and promise.

Too much of the remainder of the film never really goes anywhere, and the generally amateurish feel mars it. Actually, much of the flick seems reasonably professional, as I can’t fault the music, camerawork or the like. It’s the acting that lets down the material, especially in terms of Johns. From minute one, she feels stiff and artificial, as she can’t deliver lines, attitude or anything else with an ounce of believability.

Frankly, I can’t figure out why Johns got the role. She can’t act, and I don’t think she’s nearly hot enough to be the object of such desire. Even if we exclude her mini-Bride of Frankenstein hairstyle, she looks too much like Barry Bonds for me to find her even vaguely attractive. Contrast that with the much lovelier Dowell as Nola’s gay friend and Johns seems even less appealing. Shouldn’t a movie about a really hot woman feature an actual really hot woman?

Most of the other actors do better than Johns but not by a lot. Even Lee’s goofy Mars only occasionally hits home with his work; a lot of the time he feels just as forced and uncomfortable as the others. Redmond provides arguably the only good performance among the main characters, as he manages to come across as notably more real and believable than the others.

Like most Lee films, too much of Gotta feels like it exists for no apparent reason other than the director’s fancy. Why do we take off for a brief color interlude with a dance sequence? I don’t know – maybe Lee wanted to use that scene as a calling card for future work.

Of course, Lee always wears his politics on his sleeve, and that extends even to seemingly innocuous segments like the early lovemaking scene. That piece goes on forever and appears to come along solely to make a statement that Black People Can Make Beautiful Love! I get the impression Lee wanted to make up for all the negative depictions of blacks in films, and some parts of Gotta strike me as nothing more than attempts to right wrongs.

I wouldn’t call She’s Gotta Have It a bad flick, as it does show glimmers of talent and possibilities. Too much of it simply lacks much depth or naturalism. If viewed as a student film or a “work in progress”, it’s a “B+” that demonstrates promise. As an actual final product, it’s too up and down to be a success.

Credits footnote: viewers may get confused about the identity of the actor who plays Jamie. The opening credits call him “Redmon Hicks” while the closing text refers to him as “Redmond Hicks”. At the film’s end, we also see a montage where the actors tell us their names, and there he calls himself “Tommy R. Hicks”. I went with “Redmond” but I guess any of the three works.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio C+/ Bonus D-

She’s Gotta Have It appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.66:1 on this single-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Given the movie’s low budget origins, I thought the transfer looked fine.

Sharpness was generally good. Much of the movie displayed reasonable accuracy and clarity, though more than a few exceptions occurred. Some parts – especially interiors – appeared a bit soft and ill-defined. I noticed no signs of jagged edges, shimmering or edge haloes, and source flaws were pretty minor. The grain that inevitably came with a cheap flick was the main distraction, but otherwise the effort was clean; I noticed a few minor specks but nothing more.

Only one sequence boasted color: the dance number performed for Nola’s birthday. The hues looked quite dynamic and bold here, as Lee clearly went with film stock superior to what he used the rest of the time. He wanted that big Technicolor look and he got it, as the tones were quite lively and pleasing. Too bad the scene came and went so quickly, though a similar palette would’ve been inappropriate for the rest of the movie.

Within the normal black and white world of Gotta, the blacks tended to be a little mushy. They showed decent depth but never any better than that. Shadows could also be somewhat dense and thick, and contrast was lackluster. Again, many of these issues clearly resulted from the low budget nature of the project, but I still didn’t feel comfortable with a grade above a “C+”.

Adapted from the movie’s original monaural audio – which also appears on the DVD – the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of She’s Gotta Have It was also restricted by it sources. The soundfield did little to reinvent any wheels. Actually, it opened up general ambience in a decent manner, as various urban sounds spread across the front. Most of these remained vaguely defined, though a few specifics would show up in the sides; for instance, a scene in which Nola sews starts in the left and pans to the center. The surrounds bolstered this material in a modest way. None of it impressed, but it came across as acceptably natural.

The music was a somewhat different matter. At no point did stereo imaging appear particularly good. Indeed, the score usually sounded like faux stereo to me; the material spread across the front but it lacked any real localization. This wasn’t a bad effect or a distraction, but it didn’t add anything to the package.

Audio quality showed its origins as well. Speech was intelligible but seemed distant due to the nature of its recording. It was obvious all the dialogue came from the shoot and none of it was done especially well. Still, speech was acceptable despite these limitations.

Music and effects both appeared passable but not any better than that. They showed a little too much reverb and lacked much definition. Neither was bad, but neither provided a lot of presence. Ultimately, when I factored in the age and origins of the audio, I thought it deserved a “C+”.

In terms of extras, Gotta provides only some Previews to open the disc. We find ads for Hotel Rwanda and the Soul Cinema Collection.

And that’s it, as nothing specific to Gotta appears – not even the flick’s trailer! Given the film’s profile – and Spike Lee’s prior willingness to participate in DVD supplements – the absence of anything substantial here clearly disappoints. Most other Lee flicks enjoy good treatment on DVD; why is one of his three most famous neglected in this way?

Spike Lee’s She’s Gotta Have It was quite the sensation back in 1986, but 20 years later? Ehhh. We can see occasional flashes of an original talent in it, but too much of it seems meandering and amateurish. The DVD presents acceptable picture and audio but lacks any supplements. I think Gotta is worth a look due to its significance in Spike Lee’s career, but I can’t say the movie does much for me.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.375 Stars Number of Votes: 8
0 3:
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