Directed by: Terence Nance.
Written by: Terence Nance.
Featuring: Alisa Becher, Jc Cain, Dexter Jones, Namik Minter, Terence Nance, Talibah Lateefah Newman, Chanelle Pearson.
An Oversimplification of Her Beauty is a daring hybrid of dramatic, documentary and animated sequences by first time director Terence Nance. Interweaving his own short film, made while at NYU 6 years ago, the film is an ever strange, ever inventive look at what is basically a very simple story of boy meets girl – and then pines for her obsessively. I’m not sure that the film really adds up to anything more than cinematic navel gazing by Nance – he has blown up a very simple story to a level that really wasn’t necessary. Yet, as a calling card, I think Nance achieved his goal. I cannot wait to see what he does next.
The film is broken up into multiple chapters, and has some sort of all knowing, all seeing narrator who acts as our guide through all the stories in the film. At its most basic level, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty is a very simple story of a young man, who drifts from one woman to the next, until he settles on Namik who he obsesses over. He made a short film about their relationship while at NYU, which also hit the festival circuit, which frustrates Namik, who feels that the film was entirely one sided. Nance interweaves footage of a documentary that Namik is making herself (although it doesn’t appear like it will ever be finished) that will tell her side of the story. More than anything, the film seems to be about a missed connection – with Nance obsessing over one encounter, where he was supposed to meet Namik at his apartment, got delayed, and when he arrives home finds that she has already left, gone home and doesn’t plan on coming back.
Does the central relationship in the movie really need an entire film to explore it? Not really. There really isn’t much of a relationship there, and despite the efforts to give Namik more of a voice in the film, it really doesn’t help all that much – she remains an unknowable character – a distant muse, an ideal that Nance holds in his head instead of a real, three dimensional person.
Having said all of that, I have to say that while the central relationship isn’t nearly as interesting to me as it is to Nance, his film is never less than fascinating. He throws everything at the wall to see what will stick. There are many animated sequences throughout the film – all of them at least somewhat different (apparently, he collaborated with multiple animators on these segments), which help to illuminate Nance’s thoughts, and more importantly his feelings. These sequences, although a little crude, are the highlight of the movie – completely original.
It was also somewhat refreshing to see a different view on young, African American culture than we normally see on film. These are somewhat sheltered, middle class, artistic young people – who are smart, yet also somewhat immature. In short, they are normal urban 20-somethings. Nance has some things in common with Woody Allen – somewhat neurotic and obsessive, yet also likable, which is important given the level of navel gazing going on here. Too much of that, and the film could be insufferable – which at a few moments it is.
I don’t necessarily think An Oversimplification is a completely successful movie. Nance throws too much at the screen for such a simple story – and has a needlessly complex structure that doesn’t really add anything to the movie. Yet the film marks Nance as a director to watch. His ambition and skill are undeniable. I just hope next time around, he finds a story to match those skills.