'How U Like Me' takes a loving look at urban blacks

April 03, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

Some years ago, critics were calling Spike Lee the "black Woody Allen," but that title is more appropriately bestowed upon Darryl Roberts, whose "How U Like Me Now" has just opened.

Of course, I mean the Woody Allen of late, obsessed with the continually shifting balance of power in the course of time, usually played for light comedy and heavy irony. That describes "Husbands and Wives" and it describes "How U Like Me Now."

The movie is an ensemble piece that glides smoothly within a group of young African-American professionals in Chicago and explores their ups, downs and horizontals. It isn't at all about race; it's about sex.

Roberts is quietly unassuming in his filmmaking style; he just grows on you. His principal character is Thomas (Darnell Williams), a blue-collar worker in the shipping department of a black publishing firm. Thomas is on the down slope. He's started missing work, his production level is slipping and he feels thwarted at every course.

This is difficult for the woman he lives with, Valerie (Salli Richardson), who is definitely moving up.

To her, poor Thomas has begun to seem like a one-way street. He never has any money, he can never take her out. Life is pretty sad with Thomas. Eventually, they break up as she goes in search of greener pastures.

Others move through this galaxy. There's Alex, the sexy, confirmed ladies man, and Spooney, the gay hairdresser. There fTC a kid with ambitions but no goals, and B. J. (Roberts himself), an earnest Afrocentrist.

Roberts has love in his heart for all of them, and his message

seems to be: Everybody's human, just like everybody else.

For an ultra-low-budget job, "How U Like Me Now" has a surprisingly rich look. Roberts is a filmmaker to be watched; he will be heard from again.

"How U Like Me Now"

Starring Darnell Williams

and Salli Richardson.

Directed by Darryl Roberts.

Released by Shapiro Glickenhaus.

Rated R.

** 1/2

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