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‘Blindspotting‘: A buddy comedy with much on its mind

There’s something Shakespearean about the new movie Blindspotting, and it’s more than just the rhyme and meter used to construct some of the dialogue.

You also see it in the movie’s central friendship between Collin (Hamilton Tony winner Daveed Diggs), an out-on-parole Oakland man, and a Falstaffian figure named Miles (Rafael Casal) — a chimes-at-midnight kind of guy, which is a problem for Collin, who needs to be in bed at the halfway house by 9.

The friendly friction between cautious Collin and mischievous Miles gives the movie its initial buddy-movie framework and comic chemistry — one scene has Miles admiring an Uber driver’s handgun, carelessly forgetting that just being near a weapon puts Collin in serious legal jeopardy.

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Although the movie soft-pedals the racial component of the friendship, we, of course, note that Miles is white, and we wonder if this informs his recklessness — although he and Collin are as close as could be, he doesn’t understand the way race makes his buddy’s situation especially precarious.

This is typical of the way Blindspotting eases into serious subjects. Collin and Miles work for a moving company, and although this provides the framework for a blue-collar workplace comedy, there’s more going on. They’re moving longtime Oaklanders out, and they’re moving Silicon Valley newcomers in.

Casal and Diggs — Oakland natives who collaborated on the script — are addressing gentrification. But again, their instinct is to approach the subject in a disarming way. Even the locals concede there’s an upside to the influx of money and people — no way I’m leaving, says one longtime resident, now that the food is good.

Blindspotting sends a clear signal early on, however, that the laughs will give way to something more unsettling. Collin witnesses an officer-involved shooting, complicating his already tricky legal situation, and placing him at a moral crossroads where every direction seems perilous.

Meanwhile, Miles’ recklessness becomes a larger problem, leading to an interesting scene that finds the two men attending a party hosted by a hipster whose renovated Oakland home is full of newly arrived start-up types. They start up with Miles, mistaking him for a fellow Silicon Valley émigré trying too hard to be street.

Here, the movie’s simmering themes of race, culture, class, and displacement finally boil over, and we get additional insight into the way Miles’ impulsiveness contributes to the history between the two friends.

Casal and Diggs are pals in real life — Diggs is a rapper, Casal a veteran of the spoken-word scene and a regular on Def Poetry. They incorporate those skills into the characters of Collin and Miles, who often go at each other with freestyle rhymes.

It comes off as fairly organic, at least until the ending, when the device is undercut by an outrageous narrative coincidence that works against both the feeling of spontaneity and the admirable nuance that defines most of the movie.

MOVIES

Blindspotting

  • Directed by Carlos Lopez Estrada. With Daveed Diggs, Rafael Casal, Wayne Knight, Ethan Embry and Janina Gavankar. Distributed by Lionsgate.
  • Running time: 1 hour, 35 mins.
  • Parents guide: R (violence)
  • Playing at: Area theaters

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