The best creators can always elevate filmmaking basics into a masterpiece.
Lovers Rock revolves around a party. Yet this movie feels lived-in and fully formed that anyone who watches it will be cured of quarantine depression.
The story is free form but the storytelling is precise. The movie focuses on activities and interactions swirling around and in this event.
The DJs set up their equipment. Women prepare food. Two women practice their dance moves. We learn that one of them is celebrating a birthday. A pair of best friends meet up and ride a bus. A petty thief watches as people line up and gets past the bouncer with a token.
The plot is aimless, but that’s the point. When does a night like this ever go according to plan? The story moves with the flow of a party. Characters flirt, dance, and find their partners. There are realistic moments too – a predator lurks by, a girl narrowly escapes rape, and a party crasher stirs things up.
There is one moment in this film that will be mentioned in every review. As the people on the dancefloor all join together to sing the chorus of a song, we are reminded of what’s like to be young and free.
Of course, being a Steve McQueen movie, there is also a powerful undercurrent here. A white man stares as black men haul music equipment out of a car. Later on, a group of white men catcalls and chases a black woman until a bouncer steps in. A disturbance gets the attention of the cops in seconds as if they’re waiting nearby waiting for a reason to crash the party. A harsh world awaits outside the door.
Aside from the vivid cinematography, the lived-in feel of smoke and sweat, charming performances, and warm texture, there’s resilience through survival. In 1980’s London when black people aren’t allowed in white-run clubs, they created their own space and live, even for one night, free from the prejudice of the outside world. It’s a temporary but necessary reprieve.
This is the brilliance of Lovers Rock. Steve McQueen captures a specific time and milieu as well as the universal feeling of youth and possibilities. As the movie ends, Lovers Rock tells us that when we put ourselves out there, one night can change everything.
Lovers Rock is not just a movie, it’s an experience. It’s not about one person and one story. It’s a movie about a community. Black people are dancing to their own music, basking in their own identity, and defiantly celebrating their lives.
Lovers Rock is an amazing cinematic paradox - specific yet universal, exuberant yet defiant, and a groovy party movie with social commentary.