Sallie Richardson-Whitfield and Omari Hardwick in "I Will Follow." (Sidney Baldwin, AFFRM )
Set over the course of a single day, as a woman moves items out of the home she had been sharing with her recently deceased aunt, "I Will Follow" looks to capture the way seemingly little things can acquire tremendous emotional weight. TV shows saved on a DVR, old photos, the way light comes through a window at a certain time of day — anything can become a trigger to memory and grief, the most mundane things perhaps most of all.
Written and directed by Ava DuVernay, her debut feature film shows a certain amount of promise but often falls prey to easy emotional beats and an overall sentimentality when it should push for moments less obvious, more rare, true and insightful. The structure, sliding between memories evoked by objects in the house and the common difficulties of moving day, should play with more elegance than it does. Instead, it feels awkward and frequently — as does the film on the whole — too on the nose, too obvious.
When the film tries to lighten the mood is when it stumbles most badly. It feels hollow and forced when characters debate the finer points of the discographies of Jay-Z vs. Nas and (somewhat surprisingly, given the film's middle-class African American milieu) the minutiae of U2. (The film's title comes from a song by the Irish rock band.) A romantic interlude as the day turns to evening also feels out of place.
"I Will Follow" is the kind of film it feels bad to say anything negative about, because it so obviously comes from a place of good intentions and sincere efforts. But good intentions on their own do not make for a satisfying movie.