Mon July 23, 2007
Talk to Me
Barely a scene overplayed
By John DeSando, WCBE's It's Movie Time
"I'll tell it to the hot, I'll tell it to the cold. I'll tell it to the young, I'll tell it to the old. I don't want no laughin', I don't want no cryin', and most of all, no signifyin'. This is Petey Greene's Washington." Petey Greene
Petey Greene was as big in radio in the mid-to-late 60's as Howard Stern in the 90's only Greene was much more powerful an advocate for and influence over minorities that Stern ever even thought to be. Stern himself admits to Petey's groundbreaking DJ persona, speaking truthfully from the heart.
Talk to me smartly chronicles Greene's astounding rise to national prominence as a Washington, D.C. black advocate, whose only limitation dramatically is that in the end his career and life ended pathetically as a result of hubris and misunderstanding.
Don Cheadle as Petey and Chiwetel Ejiofor as his "Mr. Tibbs" manager Dewey Hughes are the acting team of the year, initially despising each other, needling each other to be more than they are, comforting each other in down times, and ultimately responsible for the major successes and failures of their lives. All this with barely a scene overplayed. Even after Martin Luther King's death, when Petey the ex-con DJ goes on the air to help mitigate the destructive revenge of blacks in D.C., Cheadle underplays effectively.
The limitation of Talk to Me is that the story has been told many times before, the typical rise and fall of a star, even though it may be true. In this case it is, and the last third of the film suffers from a clich?d depiction of Petey's degeneration and death, both of which are not half as interesting as his rise to stardom. That he struggled with alcohol his whole life, never became comfortable with standup comedy or TV talk show hosting, and ominously coughed for cancer are not interesting parts of his life, albeit accurate and dominant in his decline.
However, his failure on his only appearance on the Tonight Show is a memorable caution about being something you are not, being forced into a role not meant for you.
Dieing in his early 50's from lung cancer is a sad denouement to a life that had been broadcasting iconic when he simply told it the way it was from a little studio that let him speak effectively to his people about rights and pride. Over 10,000 attended his funeral in D.C., more than any non-elected person in the city's history. Petey would have been proud.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time, which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com