Feeling like a perfect summer day, “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party” creates a lively, inspired atmosphere that in many ways harkens back to the loose, wonderfully chaotic manner in which American film was shot in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Coming off of the overwhelming success of his television comedy show, Chappelle decides, seemingly on a whim, to have an old school block party. Upon choosing a run-down section of Brooklyn (near where Biggie Smalls went to daycare and many of the musicians in the film began their careers), Chappelle then makes a return to his hometown of Dayton, Ohio. There, the comedian, handing out Willy Wonka-like golden tickets with an unabashed smile, invites everyone from a high school marching band to an older white woman who runs the convenience store where Chappelle buys his cigarettes. With the promise of a free round-trip bus ticket, “snacks” and a place to stay while in Brooklyn, Chappelle fills two school buses full of people and returns to New York for the party.
And what a party it is.
With an artists list that would make even the most cherished of benefit shows jealous – Mos Def, The Roots, Common, Jill Scott, Talib Kweli, Dead Prez, Kanye West, Erykah Badu, Big Daddy Kane, even a reunited Fugees – Chappelle is able to get all of his favorite musicians on the same stage, on the same day, to the delight of a joyous, appreciative crowd.
Aiding the loose feel of the film are director Michel Gondry and cinematographer Ellen Kuras, both of whom were responsible for the sublime “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” Capturing the party for all of its worth, the camera shots are unobtrusive, yet they still manage to recreate just how thrilling and inspiring it must have been to been in Brooklyn on that day. Furthermore, Gondry and Kuras do an excellent job interspersing the musical performances, which get a little top heavy in the latter part of the film, with absolutely hilarious, off-the-cuff sequences of Chappelle being Chappelle.
What’s better than watching Dave Chappelle lead an all-star band with Mos Def on drums through a Vegas meets James Brown “hit me” routine? Not much.
It’s undeniably refreshing to watch an amazing assortment of talented people “do their thing” – and also have fun while doing it – on the silver screen for two hours. In fact, perhaps someone should put together a mandatory screening of the film for everyone in Hollywood – to remind them that American cinema can, all at once, be fun, smart and entertaining.