Rated R for being a movie primarily about sexuality, coupled with the nudity that comes with that sexuality. I mean, this movie isn't dancing around. While the movie at times is incredibly romantic, it never lets you forget that Lola is a character that is defined by her quest for definition through sexuality. At times that sex is romantic; other times quite violent. But this is definitely an R rated movie in any light.
DIRECTOR: Spike Lee
Man, I love Spike Lee. I just went over to his IMDB page to see where She's Gotta Have It falls, and I realize that I have a lot of Spike Lee to still watch. I also wanted to see where this fell in retrospect to one of my favorite movies of all time, Do the Right Thing. This movie isn't Do the Right Thing. It's odd, because I see this movie as so quintessentially Spike Lee and then so far down the pipeline from pure Spike Lee, which will be seen three years later. By the way, I swear it is kind of an accident the way that this played out. I'm not trying to watch the first (or in this case, very early) films of later famous directors. But it is an interesting experiment to see where the roots of film kind of got their starts.
That's probably my biggest takeaway from She's Gotta Have It. It has all of those hallmarks of early independent film. It's intentionally shot in black-and-white, with the exception of the birthday dance. The actors seems a bit more rigid than what we would get in later Spike Lee Joints. It's a master figuring out some of those nuts-and-bolts of grand storytelling. But like many of these early works from great directors, despite all of the rough edges, there's a heck of a movie here. I mean, Spike Lee took something that Kevin Smith has been trying to define and kind of got it in one without making whole View Askewniverse behind it. While watching the movie, I kept thinking of how She's Gotta Have It is this blend of Breathless and Chasing Amy that I never thought that I would see out of Spike Lee, but I gotta say that I dug it.
I was going to have this big anaylsis / revelation moment. I figured out some of the themes and motifs while I was watching it and I was ready to have a whole diatribe showing off how smart I was. Then Spike just states the thing that was in my head. That's a little unfair, Spike. I try so hard to be a good blogger. Either way, I'm going to write a bit more explicitly and verbosely about the theme of the movie. While She's Gotta Have It is definitely laden with a few dated problems, it might be the most progressive movie of the '80s. While Do the Right Thing shows people just embracing their own bigotry for the sake of storytelling, She's Gotta Have It embraces that it isn't tinged by midwestern conservative values. While the movie couldn't have actually said the phrase "sex positive", it defines it through conversations and actions. Lola straight up talks to a therapist about her potential sex addiction and she's left with a message that it isn't an addiction where Lola is, so much as she simply doesn't have a puritanical view of sex. I get that Lee kind of is closer to the therapist than the other characters when it comes to defining Lola, especially considering that the end of the film seems to be something tacked on to be supportive of the messages of the film. (I want to talk more about that later, but for now, I'm going to keep focus on what the paragraph is about.) Lola even entertains the idea of a homosexual relationship before establishing that it doesn't do anything for her. The only level of anger or hate to a lesbian lifestyle doesn't come from Lola, but from Jamie in the form of jealousy. He doesn't really hate Opal. He just doesn't like that someone else is giving his significant other attention. It's odd the scene exists where it does because we're not really privy to Lola's polyamory at this point. Would Jamie be as hostile knowing Lola's relationships with Mars and Greer? I don't know. There would be some animosity, but I'm not sure if it would manifest the same way.
Okay, let's talk about that theme. Yes, Spike Lee has created a story of the normality of polyamory. I don't want to take the literal meaning out of the film. But I like that Greer, Mars, and Jamie all represent different elements that Lola kind of needs in her life. I wouldn't normally say "need" but the title of the film is She's Gotta Have It. It really seems like Lee is aiming for Jamie to be the main male protagonist. We get to see Jamie's courtship. In some ways, Jamie is the one who acts as the avatar for the audience. We mostly learn about Lola, divorced from the interview format, by Jamie's wooing of Lola. But Jamie represents the artist. It's not exactly surprising that Spike Lee made Jamie the hero of the piece, despite the fact that he plays Mars, because Jamie's love of Lola and culture seems the most pure. He's the one who keeps a cool head most of the time. He is the one who doesn't simply view her from a sexual nature. He's also the one who is trying and failing hardest with the whole polyamorous nature of their relationship. At the Thanksgiving sequence, Mars and Greer are the ones at each other's throats, despite the fact that Jamie is lumped in with the other two when called out for poor behavior at the table. I also have to believe (and now I'm coming back to it) that there might have been a draft of this film where Lola ends up with Jamie. In terms of show-don't-tell, the final act of the film is Lola dumping Mars and Greer for the sake of Jamie, who can't handle the polyamory surrounding Lola. But the film then ends with Lola simply giving us a verbal update, stating that she quickly returned to her ways. The movie isn't that long that we couldn't see Lola's attempt at monogamy spiraling. I think that Lee is aware that sticking with Jamie undoes a lot of the themes that the movie presents.
If Jamie represents a love of arts and culture, Greer represents traditional masculinity. I like that Greer is comically unlikable. There are elements of White republicanism that he's accused of flaunting. Everything about Greer is about old school traditional toxic masculinity. He's handsome (kind of. He's ripped, but sleezy looking). He's got money. He's also confident to the point of egoism. Contrasted with Mars, who is self-depricating for the sake of humor. Physically, Greer towers over Mars. That makes sense. For art and intellect, she has Jamie. For stability and standards, she has Greer. Mars is probably the only one who represents fun. Yeah, I'm not rooting for Mars. He's a mess of a human being, but he's also what makes dating fun. He admits that he sticks around until people stop laughing at his jokes. Between these three guys, you have someone who could actually be a viable person. Lee almost feels like he's commenting on the wealth of personality and capability that women have, but points out that men have to be separate archetypes, leaving them incomplete. There's a reason that Lola attracts different personality types; she's got something for everyone. (That's debatable, but I'm trying to exist in the argument of the film.)
Can I just talk about one part that I like? It is stupid, but it also makes the movie incredibly human for me. One of my biggest complaints in the movie is that the movie is an early work for Lee, meaning that the performances and pacing might be lacking the same cohesiveness as his later films. But the thing that fixes that for me is the fact that Mars and Jamie get along. At the core of this film, this is supposed to be a love triangle / love square. With protagonists fighting for a goal, they must do anything to achieve that goal. It means backstabbing and becoming the ugliest versions of the selves imaginable. But despite the fact that Mars and Jamie are fighting equally hard for Lola, they actually get alone. They consider themselves brothers-in-arms. It's a lovely dynamic to a film that should be fairly straightfowrad for how we're supposed to view interactions. Like, everyone hates Greer. But Mars and Jamie talk about basketball games (which I kind of feel is Spike talking extemporaneously).
Golly, I love Spike Lee. Not all of his films hit. This one hits less than some but harder than others. But I tend to leave these films enriched and loving the characters.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.