A piece of romantic drama interspersed with supposed bits of comedy. Set in the Brooklyn of the eighties we see the evolution of various romantic relationships of a woman living on her own in the city.
Nola Darling is dating three men named Jamie, Mars and Greer, at the same time. Her attitude towards this polyamory is nonchalant but troubles all her men to no end. Initially, most of their frustration and discontent is reserved for the on-camera interviews, but over time each of them raise this issue with her in person. All three of them fail to understand why she must date three different men. It leads to each of them questioning their various abilities and wondering if they are lacking in some way or inferior to the other men. After enough tussle, they come face to face with each other at a Thanksgiving dinner. It is a tense moment, as each one is trying to establish their uniqueness and highlight their skills. After repeated bickering from the men, she is unsure of herself and doesn’t know what she really wants anymore. She reluctantly chooses Jamie over Mars and Greer. They both seem to take it in stride, only to criticize her behind her back. Her only criteria for the relationship is celibacy going forward, which is a ridiculous proposition for Jamie, especially after all the frolicking they’ve done before. The film then quickly cuts to a point closer in time where we see Nola being single again. Facing the camera, she explains how her relationship with Jamie was never meant to be and how all the complaining had caused her to lose confidence in herself. The film ends with her going back to her original liberated, sexual self.
Very obviously the film is about how one person may not satisfy all the romantic needs of another person. There are repeated occurrences where Nola legitimately seems to enjoy the various idiosyncrasies and peculiarities of the men she is dating. They all seem to hold her interest in one way or another and having to choose only one between all of them seems to be wholly unfair. None of the relationships portrayed are “secret”, so the ethics of it all is in the clear. All the partners are aware of the others and free to leave the arrangement at any point in time. Even after all their discontent none of the men leave voluntarily and Nola must personally unstuck them in every case. After succumbing to their demands in what looks like a misplaced and particularly dark scene from a different movie altogether, she gives the conventional relationship a shot, only to realize it is not going to work for her.
The film also pretends to be a documentary where its supposed purpose is to establish whether there is something “wrong” with Nola for wanting to engage with multiple partners. All the men in their interviews to the camera, mention various possible causes for why Nola is the person she is. One blames her father for not being present, while the other speculates whether she’s an addict of sorts. Both of these are resolved by interviews with her father who goes on and on about the upbringing of his daughter and then Nola’s visit to a psychologist who declares her mentally fit. In the beginning, we also see her agreeing to appear in the documentary only to establish to the world that she’s normal.
Visually, the film makes heavy use of still photographs of various landmarks and other mundane places in Brooklyn in order to set the tone. Nola’s penchant for scented candles is also a well-established metaphor for her sexuality. We see her lighting them or them appearing somewhere in the background in every scene that involves lovemaking. She also takes them down and rids the apartment of all wax when she decides to go celibate and into a “proper” relationship with Jamie. The black and white nature of the film’s print lends a quaint quality and the one scene that is shot in color is eye popping compared to the remaining monochrome.
There is no apparent act structure per se, but that may be just because of the proto-docu-drama nature of the screenplay. Some characters seem to be setup for no apparent payoff later on, particularly regarding Nola’s old roommate and Opal, her lesbian girlfriend. The only real point of conflict seems to be the Thanksgiving scene, where all the tension is dissipated, simply by waiting it out. While Nola’s character goes through some interesting situations, there is no real change in her behaviour when she meets any of these men both before or after.
For a docu-drama, the subject isn’t as intriguing as it should be. There is some sense of tension, but it resolves without any real payoff for the audience. The films production history explains why a lot of the scenes look like they were simply stitched together without much thought beforehand. This one’s a passable piece, unless the significance of the black characters appeals to you.