Sundance Review: 'The Carter'
Lil Wayne was, alas, not in the hour for the 11:59 p.m. Saturday (Jan. 17) night premiere screening of "The Carter." It wasn't anything personal, we were assured. Weezy just happens to be on tour.
This no doubt came as a fairly huge disappointment to the young lady standing behind me in line drinking peach schnapps, waxing rhapsodic about the opportunity to use her condo's hot tub and asking everybody in proximity if they thought Lil Wayne would make an appearance.
Sundance organizers have to be pleased, though, with the Park City at Midnight screening, which filled the Eccles Theatre with a crowd that was younger, drunker and more ethnically diverse than any I saw in my first day at the Fest.
And how was "The Carter"? My answer after the bump...
First caveat: I arrived in Park City at 2:00 a.m. on Saturday morning and got two hours of sleep before kicking off a rigorous five-movie day at 8 a.m. So I may have been nodding off.
Second caveat: Before "The Carter," I'd seen Doug Pray's "Art and Copy," which I'll try to review tomorrow. I'm a huge fan of a couple Pray docs, particular "Scratch" and "Art and Copy" was my Day One highlight, so "The Carter" probably paled in comparison.
Third caveat: I don't get Lil Wayne as a cultural phenomenon, though I guess I can see how some people might be amused at his eccentricities. How that translates into popularity is a mystery.
Directed by Adam Bhala Lough, "The Carter" is a decent enough introduction into the wiry bundle of weirdness that is Lil Wayne. From his mumbling speaking style that forces Lough to frequently use subtitles to his stream-of-consciousness flow to his shiny grill to his ever-increasing number of tattoos to his ubiquitous joints, to his even more ubiquitous styrofoam beverage containers (many or most filled with cough syrup), Lil Wayne is just an odd guy. Based on Lough's footage, Lil Wayne appears to alternate between being near-catatonic nearly all the time to shift gears into wildly energetic concerts.
Of course, even in a coma state, Lil Wayne is still among the genre's most prolific artists, often recording (and discarding) multiple songs per day on a system that accompanies him on the road. This is where Lough's documentary is strongest, as we watch Lil Wayne just freestyle, tweaking his words as he goes along. We learn that all of his songs are in his head, because he doesn't believe in writing things down.
Lough's access was superior, so we're on his tour bus and in his hotel rooms in locations ranging from New York to Atlanta to Amsterdam. We're told he enjoys Amsterdam because of the legal pot, but there's no indication that Lil Wayne is all that restricted when he's Stateside. Along the way, we also see interviews Lil Wayne conducts with other journalists and it doesn't take long to realize that much of his persona is just a character, an act.
Which parts aren't? The film's title, of course, refers to Lil Wayne's actual name, which is Dwayne Michael Carter Jr. But Lough opts for an observational mode rather than making an effort to learn anything real about his subject. Even the moments that feel like they might be honest, scenes like Lil Wayne recounting his alleged first sexual experience at the age of 11, could also double as performance for the ribald rapper.
When Lil Weezy is talking to the camera, though, he's frustratingly in-character the entire time, revealing nothing other than that he cares about his musical legacy and he wants to be a good father. Meanwhile darker elements like Lil Wayne's myriad drug addictions are treated almost as jokes. One of Lil Wayne's facial tats reads "misunderstood," but docs like this aren't helping matters.
After the screening, Lough told the crowd that the reason "The Carter" is playing as a midnight movie is, in his opinion, because it's more than just a simple documentary. I don't think he's right about that. I think it's playing out of the drama competition because it's an extended commercial for Lil Wayne, albeit one with a lively soundtrack and some insights into his creative process.
The crowd didn't mind those failings.