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Family issues divide along racial lines

Walker-Pearlman's 'Constellation' is ambitious but is hurt by its soap opera scenario and clunky pacing.

February 02, 2007|Kevin Crust | Times Staff Writer

An interracial romance in the Deep South during World War II forms the backdrop for the sentimental drama "Constellation." Written and directed by Jordan Walker-Pearlman, the ambitious film preaches reconciliation and forgiveness as an extended group of family and friends comes together 50 years later to celebrate the life of a beloved aunt.

Featuring a stalwart cast (many of whom appeared in Walker-Pearlman's 2000 drama, "The Visit") and some delicately wrought moments, the film is unable to overcome its soap opera scenario and clunky pacing.

In flashbacks, Gabrielle Union plays the aunt, Carmel Boxer, as a young woman as she recalls, through letters, her star-crossed affair with a white Army lieutenant. The remembrances frame the more contemporary story that details the complicated web of exes and in-laws who congregate for Carmel's funeral. The fulcrum of the relationships is patriarch Helms Boxer (Billy Dee Williams), Carmel's brother and a successful painter now living in Paris. Helms returns to Huntsville, Ala., to close out Carmel's house but has no intention of attending the funeral. He is joined by his ex-wife Nancy (Lesley Ann Warren), their two grown daughters, Lucy (Melissa De Sousa) and Rosa (Zoe Saldana), and a more recent wife, Jenita (Rae Dawn Chong), all of whom have issues with Helms' emotionally aloof demeanor.

The daughters, in turn, have relationship troubles of their own. Lucy's husband, Kent (Alec Newman), is dragging his feet about having children. Rosa, who was closest to Carmel, faces her former boyfriend, Erol (Hill Harper), and the mutual friend who came between them, Celeste (Ever Carradine), who happens to be the niece of Bear (David Clennon), the white man Carmel loved all those years ago.

Race naturally plays a large part in what complicates each of these relationships. But it's largely an external force with society's expectations having caused the situation in which Carmel and Bear were unable to be together. With the exception of Helms, these are characters comfortable with who they are, and the color of one another's skin is irrelevant. The obstacles are emotional and will require them to be honest with themselves before mending bonds.

Walker-Pearlman's strengths lie in these characterizations and his ability to draw subtle performances from his actors. However, the powerfully understated moments are undercut by the film's unwieldy structure. Any emotional momentum that builds is lost with the interminable flashbacks.

"Constellation." MPAA rating: PG-13 for brief strong language and a sexual reference. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes. At selected theaters.

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