My Name is Myeisha at EIFF: ‘a hypnotic, hyperactive hip-hop musical’
Relevance is great – but it’s not everything. Gus Krieger’s My Name is Myeisha didn’t seem to get the memo. Contemporary, emotionally resonant, and technically impressive, this hypnotic, hyperactive hip-hop musical suffers from a myriad of flaws: poor pacing, grating dialogue, a lack of anything to say, and an amateurish score.
Adapting Rickerby Hinds play, Dreamscape, the film takes place in Inland Empire, 1998. On the 28th December, 19-year-old Myeisha is trying to get to a club in LA with her friend and cousin when their car gets a flat tyre. Whilst her companions go to find help, Myeisha falls asleep in the car – handgun in her lap – and cannot be woken. Frightened that something bad might happen, her cousin phones the police – asking for assistance – but, when they get to the scene, tragedy occurs. (Possibly) mistaking a loud noise (we never find out what it is) for a gunshot, the officers fire 12 rounds into Myeisha’s body. The film largely takes place in an artificially lengthened timeframe, as she is being shot to death.
An interesting idea, but there’s a core problem: My Name is Myeisha has one of the worst-though-out structures committed to celluloid. Aside from its opening and closing exposition, the film locks itself into a rigid structure whereby as coroner reads out the details of each gunshot wound, we launch into a random, inconsequential, piece of whimsy about Myeisha’s life (e.g. white bread is shit; she was good at baseball; you shouldn’t touch a black woman’s hair); before returning to a dull, unnecessary piece of dance and beatboxing in a dark room. This happens twelve fucking times. That is the movie. It’s repetitive, and if it has some overarching point, it evaded me. Even as a character story – Dreamscape is based on real-life-victim Tyisha Miller – the script fails miserably, only delivering us flotsam and jetsam recollections of Myeisha’s personality.
As for the score – this is a ‘hip-hop musical’ after all – it’s not great either. It’s key to note here that there are no real musical numbers with the music interwoven into the dialogue. It’s that awful combination of dumb and pretentious. Myeisha always feels like she’s talking down to the audience, as if she feels they are a) lower than her; and b) she has something interesting to say. I can state with high certainty that there is nothing more meaningful here than a 14 year-old’s slam poetry: things that cut only skin deep. Secondly, Hinds is clearly no poet: at least a quarter of the lines in My Name is Myeisha are staggeringly amateur – I was surprised to find things like “My name is Myeisha, I am the best / come get with me, forget the rest” in an actual script that somebody invested money in, but hey, each to their own. Thirdly, there’s no flow whatsoever. As soon as a new melody or rhythm is introduced, it’s replaced by another within a line or two – meaning that nothing really gets a chance to shine, and nothing really sticks as a memorable moment. It doesn’t help that what is said is ridiculously repetitive – a particular scene comparing Wesley Snipes and Denzel Washington mirrors the overall narrative in it’s teeth-gritting grind, spiralling on and on despite you wishing it would end.
The main thing the movie does have going for it, however, is technical skill. DoP Jeff Moriarty brings a constantly evolving kaleidoscope of colour and shot-styles to the mix, layering an artistic veneer over the pedestrian and problematic storyline. Admittedly, at times, it feels like a black box play (for good and bad) – and, because of the fourth-wall breaking, the film never escapes an artificial theatre sheen. Yet the use of some snappy editing (static, slow motion, sudden shifts in location) keeps the film interesting.
As a film about a police shooting My Name is Myeisha undeniably packs an emotional punch. It’s a relevant film about a contemporary issue, and one that depicts a terrible tragedy. Yet this isn’t enough: the script it revolves around is poorly structured, pretentious, and amateurish. It has nothing to say, and takes far too long to say it.