Last Sunday, Barry Jenkins claimed (eventually) the Best Picture Oscar for “Moonlight.” He also won the Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay, which he shared with Tarell Alvin McCraney who’d written the play that was the source material for this intense character study.
Both men had grown up Liberty City, the low-income Miami neighborhood at the center of the action in “Moonlight,” but had not known each other then. Jenkins, a year older at 37, was the first to find success in the arts. After studying film at Florida State University in Tallahassee, he made his way to Los Angeles where he worked on a script that eventually became his first feature, the romance drama “Medicine for Melancholy.” (Set aside 88 minutes to stream the film on Netflix or rent it from Amazon or iTunes.)
Jenkins doggedly worked to raise the $150,000 he needed to make the movie and cast stand-up comedian Wyatt Cenac as Micah, a young man living in San Francisco who spends a day with Jo (Tracey Heggins), a woman he had hooked up with at a party the night before.
IFC Films distributed “Medicine for Melancholy,” which earned rave reviews from the likes of Roger Ebert who described it as “the first, but very assured, feature by Barry Jenkins, who has the confidence to know the precise note he wants to strike.” Indeed, at the 2009 Independent Spirit Awards, Jenkins was nominated for the Someone to Watch Award; he lost to Lynn Shelton (“My Effortless Brilliance”) who has become a go-to director for many top TV shows including “Master of None” and “Fresh Off the Boat.”
“Medicine for Melancholy,” contended for Best First Feature but was edged out by Charlie Kaufman‘s “Synecdoche, New York.” And lenser James Laxton, who won here and reaped an Oscar bid for “Moonlight,” lost his Spirit race back then to Maryse Alberti for “The Wrestler.”