The Hollywood Reporter has just reviewed the much talked about film, The Obituary of Tunde Johnson.
Per the outlet:
The Obituary of Tunde Johnson is the story of a Nigerian-American high school student from an upper-middle-class family in Los Angeles. The gay offspring of a supportive and warm immigrant couple, Tunde (Steven Silver) plunges into a spiral of reoccurring death by police violence. Each time he is killed, the omniscient narrator recites different versions of his basic obit: “Tunde Johnson departed this life 9:38 pm, May 28th, 2020, at the hands of police officers in Los Angeles.” After each death, Tunde lurches himself awake again, breathing as if he’d almost drowned. Trapped in this cyclical set-up, he finds himself back at the beginning of the same distressing school day again and again.
An agonizing tale about the weight society hoists upon too many black gay men’s weary shoulders, it’s the kind of film that lingers in your mind days after you’ve seen it, as much due to the relevant subject matter as to Tunde’s penetrating gaze. The cinematography plays with foreground and background, often deploying a visual vocabulary of two-shots where one character is in focus and the other is blurry, both usually in profile. In a scene where Tunde and his boyfriend lay down next to each other and discuss their relationship, the camera goes from shooting them horizontally to standing them up to appear vertical for a beat before returning to horizontal.
It would be a more interesting flourish if the movie weren’t already loaded with them. Written by Stanley Kalu as a 19-year-old student at USC, the script feels like the work of a young up-and-comer throwing idea after idea against the wall and hoping something sticks. The movie tackles so much — police violence, coming out, Nigerian cosmology, drug addiction and bullying — that it would be hard for any film of this ambition to sufficiently pay off.
In many ways, The Obituary of Tunde Johnson defies genre. It is a drama that whips around from psychological thriller to magical realism to generic teen narrative. The scenes where Tunde dies often feel like something out of a psychological thriller. The high school scenes mimic soapy adolescent dramas (Silver’s first major acting credit was the controversial Netflix teen drama 13 Reasons Why). One tonal shift that elevates the story stems from the idea that the deceased are ancestors who exist just beyond the thin veil separating life from death. Offered up as Nigerian wisdom by Tunde’s parents, this philosophy presents the audience with a way to process and grieve Tunde’s many deaths in real-time.
While the first half of the movie lags, its second half is much more on pace and gives the audience some ground to stand on amid the ever-shifting points of view of the characters. The film mostly uses its non-chronological structure to its advantage, making backward and forward shifts in time feel effortless.
Head over to THR to read the rest of the review!