Bobi Morgan Wood
Brooklyn born and bred filmmaker Darien Sills-Evans brings his new romantic comedy feature film, One Bedroom, to the Bushwick Film Festival on October Oct 13, 2018, from 3:30 p.m. to 4:55 p.m.
One Bedroom, with the subtitle Love Means Never Having to Give up Your Apartment, is a story about two people breaking up with each other, but not with Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Sills-Evans, 43, wrote and directed the feature film; he also plays the role of Nate, the fortunate occupant of a one-bedroom apartment in Bedford Stuyvesant, in a building owned by his mother.
The film opens with a beautiful African American poet, clad in all-black, standing on the corner of Bedford and Dean Streets, rapping on the effects of gentrification on the community. Her role here functions much as the coryphaeus, leader of the Greek chorus, who set up for the audience the context of what they were about to witness.
In a telephone interview from California, Sills-Evans explains that the poet who performs at the start of the movie, “hopefully opens up a window into what the characters are constantly thinking and facing.”
Sills-Evans says that although the word “gentrification” is never actually voiced in the movie, “For these characters in particular, and a lot of people I know who do live in Brooklyn, the fact that they’re being gentrified is always in the back of their head, and we’re just trying to let you in on those feelings.”
The process of gentrification is almost a character of its own in One Bedroom, as rising housing costs prompt people to choose romantic partners based on what their apartment rent or mortgage is.
The beckoning, almost bittersweet tinkle of the neighborhood Mr. Frosty truck early on in the picture lets us know that we are in Bedford-Stuyvesant.
Nate, our protagonist, is a part-time student, part-time barber, and part-time DJ, who is first seen walking into the neighborhood barbershop where he works wearing a T-shirt screen-printed with a photo of Malcolm X with Mohammad Ali, in an apparent nod to Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, in which a photo of Malcolm X with Martin Luther King appears as a leitmotif.
Both Melissa and Nate are guilty of fooling around. Nate thinks his sexual romps outside the relationship don’t count if they don’t happen in his apartment, a “Whatever happens outside the apartment stays outside the apartment” attitude that might have worked before the age of cell phones.
A sixth-grade teacher, Melissa has been reading Nate’s Instagram, checking his text messages and emails, and following the advice of her BFF, Cora, who urges her to break up with Nate.
“I would describe Nate as a jerk,” says Sills-Evans, “He’s not a nice person. He’s kind of a world class a-hole—he’s got a lot of growing up to do, but he’s not necessarily dissimilar to a lot of guys I know. Nate was a sort of a parody for us on the kind of slacker-hero man-child, [that you see as the hero in so many rom-coms], but it always worked out for those guys. But in the case of Nate, and in the case of a lot of guys we know, it didn’t work out so well.”
Nate, at the ubiquitous neighborhood barbershop where he works, recounts to the others what was said and done as Melissa came to get her things as well as the day she moved out in a flashback-within-a flashback story structure.
Nate’s girlfriend, Melissa, got an apartment of her own in secret. As she packs her belongings and moves out, the two have break-up sex, then rehash the relationship in flashbacks, from giving each other Christmas gifts, to Nate’s attempts to cook, to when things started to deteriorate between the two of them.
One of Nate’s sexual adventures is with Justine, a much younger college classmate who seems a little too interested in Nate’s apartment, and is all too willing to have sex with Nate for a chance to move in.
Nate thinks he’s a nine on the looks scale, but the girl he almost cheats on Melissa with tells him nonchalantly as she pulls him in for a kiss that in her book, he’s only a six.
But Melissa, played by Devin Nelson, has already had revenge sex in the apartment with a sexy fellow teacher named Jason by the time the movie opens. Before meeting Nate at a club where he was DJing, Melissa had been considering marrying a guy named Vincent and moving to Columbus, Ohio.
The character of Melissa as acted by Nelson is, in fact, delightfully well-rounded.
Sometimes Melissa is a goofball, sometimes she’s shy.
Sometimes she’s fierce, as when she confronts Nate over his infidelities, she’s also capable of recognizing when she’s wrong, as when she acknowledges that Nate’s story of how he didn’t actually have sex with another woman in their shared bed is so stupid, he’s got to be telling the truth.
She’s also capable of self-doubt, asking herself at one point, “Why am I leaving? How is this any worse than any other fight we’ve had?”
“I just tried to be fair in the writing,” says Sills-Evans of creating the character of Melissa, “I don’t think writing female characters as a man should be so much of a challenge.”
Sills-Evans, who based the character of Melissa on women he knows in real life, says, “As in writing any character, you are informed by what you know. I don’t think women writers have a problem writing complex men…I don’t think sensitive writers have a problem creating complex characters no matter what the gender.”
Many people will be able to see echoes of their own break-ups in One Bedroom. “If we’re not making plans, we’re just wasting time together,” Melissa tells Nate one night as the two lie side by side in bed before turning out the lights. Nate rolls over.
In a scene at a bar, there’s a hint of the alienation and fragmentation behind what people display on their Instagram feeds. When Melissa compliments Nate on his party, he reveals that it’s not actually an organic party so much as a collection various internet sub-groups brought out from Facebook, MySpace, and some other apps.
In one scene, set, like most of the movie, inside the apartment, Nate’s friend takes leave of the break-up drama, giving Nate the parting advice if he gets in trouble again to “Pull your dick out, your dick and your balls out. I did it one time, dudes scattered like roaches.”
Sills-Evans says he is currently trying to decide two choices for his next picture, a comedy or a murder mystery. The actor/director/writer says his favorite actors are Denzel Washington and Sidney Poitier. While he says he doesn’t have one particular favorite director, he says, “I’ve always loved Spike Lee and Francois Truffaut, also Gene Wilder.”
The Bushwick Daily couldn’t help asking Sills-Evans if a guy pulling out his genitals when facing attack is a real street fighting move. Sills-Evans says playfully, “I believe it could work. I’m just waiting for somebody to try it.”
As the movie comes to a close, the Mr. Frostee ice cream truck jingle is heard once more. The familiar tinny summer melody, with its yearning tinkle promising happiness, provides a closing semaphore for the film, along with the words Melissa confides on the afternoon of her move: “Cheap rent in Brooklyn is a powerful aphrodisiac.”
Photos courtesy of One Bedroom