Published May 1, 1998
Hav Plenty by Christopher Cherot is a young man’s film about love and success in the black middle class and as such, I suppose, is to be applauded merely for existing. At least it is a welcome break from those tiresome boyz in the hood and other forms of playing up to black stereotypes. But like other films by young black filmmakers, especially those like this one where the director also stars, it is shot through with wish-fulfilment fantasy. Being cool and smart and creative but a bit nerdy, like Mr Cherot, ultimately gets the girl and the fame and the money, while the megacool rapper (Hill Harper) is shown to be a sleaze and a phony. This is an attractive proposition in itself, though it would be a lot more attractive, one can’t help thinking, if it were not quite so obviously a case of Mr Cherot tooting his own horn.
He plays an impecunious young writer improbably called Lee Plenty. The girl of his dreams is is Havilland Savage (Chenoa Maxwell), the daughter of a well-to-do black family in Washington, D.C. who is a successful publisher in her own right. He finds himself staying with the family over an eventful New Year’s weekend and, like many a mythic hero before him, has to prove he is worthy by resisting the temptations posed to him by several other women, all of whom are more immediately attracted to him than his dreamgirl, who not only dislikes him but is going with the hot young rapper, which makes her the envy of all other women. The fly in the ointment is that the rapper, Michael Simmons, has been untrue to her and she spends the weekend away from him, angry and unsure what to do with his apologies and pleas to get back together. .
There is some charm in the more cultivated Lee’s ironies at the expense of Michael’s megahits, such as “40 Ounces of Love”, “Love 40,” “Gattin’ on Love” and “Crack Addict,” and it is a good joke to have a bevy of respectable middle-class black women refer to him as “the next Marvin Gaye.” Lee has sense enough not to moon over the beauteous Havilland and to talk back to her in a way she is clearly not used to.”Who do you think you are that you can talk to me like that?” she asks him.
“Who do you think you are that I can’t?” he replies.
It makes a refreshing change from Michael’s phony unctuousness, and Hav gets a shock when they visit her Grandmother, who calmly announces that this is the man she will marry. She’s called it before, with her mother and her sister. “All I know is what I see when two people are together,” she says when Hav resists. “You can either do it the hard way or the easy way.”
Of course, they both do it the hard way, but you could argue that the film itself, whose fashionably post-modern ending presents us with the fictional Lee’s film on the same subject as its own, does it the easy way.