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Bedroom Banter

Hav Plenty offers light humor, African-American style

With '80s-style torn jeans, pimples strategically adorning his forehead and hair looking like it just came out of a coma, Christopher Scott Cherot, the charming but gaudy lead player of Hav Plenty, would seem a highly unlikely candidate to have a houseful of young ladies pining for him in one film.

He looks something like Al B. Sure! would have looked, if Sure! hadn't continued producing breakthrough songs but had lived only in the faded glory of his 1988 pop hit "Night & Day." But when the star of the show is also writing it (though, in the first release of the film, that credit was given to someone else), as well as co-producing, directing and editing, it's obvious who's going to have the babes all over him.

Black music czar Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, through his e2 Filmworks film division, served as the executive producer of Hav Plenty. It's a bedroom farce that might come as a minor shock to the African-American audiences Cherot and his crew are aiming for with this film. The libidinous shenanigans that have accentuated other sex-themed black comedies, so idealistically displayed in last year's dubious classic Booty Call, for example, are nowhere to be found here. The characters in the film don't even talk about sex, much less have it. The only time characters bounce from bed to bed is when they want to talk, learn more about each other or play ego-tripping mind games. If there is a message in this film, it's "Take your booty call someplace else."

And it does something rare for a black film: It exposes black people as neurotic. Usually, African-American characters are portrayed as headstrong, secure, mentally controlled people, free of those pesky fears and phobias that regularly afflict white folks. These depictions seem to imply that African-Americans are so socially and racially embittered in their own lives that they have little time to concern themselves with inner complexities.

Even when it comes to something as psychologically grappling as the intimate conflicts of a relationship, blacks are shown as dealing with the situation with a renouncing, self-imposed assertiveness, rather than whining and sulking to a therapist.

In Hav Plenty, the idea of black people as secure and strong is pretty much shattered. So many brimming, bourgeois anxieties are humorously displayed, you feel like you're watching a Wendy Wasserstein play put on by a free-spirited black theater group. Lee Plenty (Cherot), a professional boho and homeless writer, gets an invitation from his platonic pal, debutantish Havilland Savage (Chenoa Maxwell). She wants him to spend a New Year's Eve weekend with a small gathering of friends at her mother's posh home in Washington, D.C.

The friendship between Plenty and Savage is a mildly tolerant, co-dependent one. She cloyingly calls on him to perform tasks such as fixing her stereo and driving her to get food, and he obliges because he has nothing else to do. The only reason they get on each other's nerves is that (surprise?) they're secretly in love.

Savage's eccentric, drama-queen friend Caroline (played in over-the-top mode, Parker Posey-style, by Tammi Katherine Jones) makes it her New Year's resolution to shag Plenty. She has silently decided, unknown even to him, to save him from Savage. Savage's sexy, sensitive sister Leigh (Robinne Lee) becomes briefly smitten with him when he advises her to take direction of her own life and not be influenced by other people, including Savage and Leigh's square but buff husband (Reginald James). (In the movie's most farcical scene, Leigh is so grateful for Plenty's words, she chases him around the kitchen for a kiss.)

Even Savage's know-all, seen-it-all grandmother (Betty Vaughn) takes a shine to Plenty and tells Savage to hold on to that young man. But Savage, whose name might be Cherot's little built-in metaphor for women just like her, isn't taking the advice.

Hav Plenty is to romantic comedies what Ally McBeal is to TV: Most of the time it's fresh, smart and enjoyable, yet there are moments that are pretentiously absurd. Audience members will probably be cursing at the screen trying to figure out how such an affable and charismatic man could have women lusting after his holey drawers and not act on it. And yet, his heart belongs to a woman who everybody knows will only set him up to be manipulated and heartbroken.

Although Cherot programs the female characters to fall prey to Plenty's bohemian wisdom (with the exception of Savage, who is pretty much on unexplainable bitch-lock for the duration of the film), they are tagged neither as victim nor villain. Like many of the film's characters, they are just confused. They are mostly unable to balance what they say with how they feel.

With all its low-budget savvy (the feeling is one of watching an elongated, nicely shot student film), Hav Plenty is a classy, refreshing and playfully self-aware ensemble comedy.

Even the movie's ending, which comments on the changes Miramax wanted to make when it scooped up the film's distribution rights, is meant to be an ironic one. If there is a new breed of filmmakers out there being coined as the Chat Pack, with guys like Whit Stillman, Noah Baumbach and Rory Kelly assembling the mix, then Cherot could easily fill in the Sammy Davis Jr. slot.

Hav Plenty.
Rated R.
Directed by Christopher Scott Cherot. With Cherot, Chenoa Maxwell, Tammie Katherine Jones and Robinne Lee.

 
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