Directed by Rick Famuyiwa
Review by Matt Heffernan
Taking on a giant crocodile and a naked Nicole Kidman is a far more deserving film that will be a distant third in the box office race. Actually, The Wood is playing in so few theaters that it will probably just barely make the top ten. What many people are going to miss is a very charming comedy about friendship and making your way into adulthood.
Roland (Taye Diggs) is about to get married, but is nowhere in sight. His mother asks his two best friends, Mike (Omar Epps) and Slim (Richard T. Jones) to go find him. They get a page from Roland's old girlfriend. Roland is drunk and at her house, trying to keep his bachelorhood. She wants no part of it, and Mike and Slim arrive to take him back. On their way, Roland gets sick in Slim's car, and they have to get their tuxedos cleaned. While they wait, they talk about high school and how they got through it.
Flash back to 1986. The first day of ninth grade and Mike has just moved to Englewood, CA ("The Wood") from North Carolina. He meets Roland and Slim and they quickly become friends. They continue to talk about going to a freshman dance and betting on who can get the most phone numbers from girls. Roland and Slim each got seven, but Mike got just one. However, it was from Alicia (Malinda Williams), a very pretty girl that they deem to be of more value than each list of seven girls, and Mike wins. Then they talk about their junior year, and how they make another bet. This time the winner is whoever loses his virginity first.
This film is more successful than American Pie because it is more centered. The other film went too far into zany comedy and then right into sappy sentimentality. The Wood could have gone farther, but it didn't. It did benefit by not going too far in either direction. The characters were stronger because they were more believable.
Sean Nelson, Trent Cameron, and Duane Finley were very good as the young Mike, Roland, and Slim. They had a far greater challenge than the adult actors because they had to span several years that bring a lot of changes to a teenage boy. Playing 14-year-olds and then 16-year-olds required a very strong understanding of the characters and how they changed.
The entire cast makes this a very enjoyable film, even if it doesn't try to go to the edge -- but it doesn't have to. Sometimes it's nice to just have a positive feeling.
For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
The Wood (1999)
Video Pick of the Week
Guide to Star Ratings
Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan