Not OutKast Anymore

Idlewild. André Benjamin, Antwan A. Patton, Terrence Howard, and Macy Gray star in a film written and directed by Bryan Barber.

Reviewed by Molly Freedenberg

idlewild.gifIf there were ever any doubt that André Benjamin (André 3000) and Antwan A. Patton (Big Boi) of OutKast are major players in a long line of great entertainers, Idlewild will clear it up. The film is a retro-modern portrait of the Prohibition-era South, with Patton as the outgoing, philandering, magnetic singer and son of a bootlegger, and Benjamin as the shy, piano-playing son of an undertaker. It’s about following your dreams, finding your voice, organizing your priorities, and enabling yourself to change. Which seems fitting, since for OutKast, it’s also about stepping up to a new level of artfulness, talent, and ingenuity, and reminding us that true innovation and passion are still possible in contemporary entertainment.

But the movie didn’t have to go so well. In fact, it seemed perfectly poised to do just the opposite. There’s an entertainment industry joke that period films whose lead characters wear hats are doomed to fail — and with this film set in the ’30s and one of its protagonists always sporting a fedora, it’s not hard to connect the dots. Add to that the fact that it stars pop singers, has a loose, clichéd plot, and starts slowly, and Idlewild could have been one huge, campy failure.

But thanks to director Bryan Barber’s vision and OutKast’s undeniable charisma, the film soars, sings, and delights with charming grace. The cinematography is gorgeous, the choreography stellar, and the music, as to be expected, toe-tappingly original. Judicious use of animation just adds to the film’s storybook feel, and extraordinary performances from Benjamin and Patton suggest that this is the film the duo was born to make. It also shows that their creativity is greater than any of us expected, and that this won’t be the last innovation we’ll see from Benjamin and Patton, who prove they are classic entertainers as much as they are pop sensations.

In fact, after seeing this film, it wouldn’t be far off to compare the two — and Benjamin especially — to greats such as Fred Astaire, Gregory Hines, Sammy Davis Jr., and even Prince. Like their predecessors, OutKast is of-our-time while also transcending it. They, like this film, will become enduring classics.

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