Honest admission: I just recently got an opportunity to get outside the country for the first time. And I took that shit with gusto. It was dope. And I have a renewed feeling and greater appreciation again for how big the world is.
This little mushy story is only relevant because international trips usually mean long flights on huge planes.
Which means assloads of downtime. So, in between trying to nab whatever sleep I could get, I was burning through my library of downloaded Netflix titles. After being unprepared for the life-is-a-shit-fest-and-we’re-all-products-of-generational-trauma that is Bojack Horseman S4, I hopped into the 2016 indie darling, Hunter Gatherer. I really wasn’t prepared for how beautiful and sad it would be.
Starring Andre Royo, Kellee Stewart, Jeannetta Arnette, George Sample III, Antonio D. Charity, Kevin Jackson and Ashley Wilkerson, this ethereal meditation on poverty, love and friendship is a lot.
In it, Ashley (Royo) returns home to LA from a prison bid to win back the love of his former girlfriend, Linda (Wilkerson). However, she’s moved on with the local trash man and wants nothing to do with Ashley’s trifling ass, who’s delusional Romeo and Juliet antics conveniently omit his own sins and philandering.
Consequently, in order to #WinLindaByke, Ashley has to have income. So in the process of hustling he meets Jeremy (Sample III), a man living with his grandpa in a nursing home. Very quickly, a strange friendship unfolds between the two. Ashley also decides to boink Jeremy’s aunt, Nat (Stewart), a single mother who’s not exactly cool with Ashley’s outspoken plans to win Linda’s heart again.
The trailer and the beginning of the film feign the idea of Hunter Gatherer being a humorous take on personal dramas, damn near akin to an older, poorer take on the love lives of the characters in Insecure. Between the hobosexuality, varying standards of love and even the setting, there’s both charm and tragedy in this. However, that’s only the front door. Once you step into the living room of this film, you’re immediately enveloped in some very deep shit. Bathed in cinematography that embraces oranges and yellows, Hunter Gatherer has a creeping warmth that’s at once welcoming and disconcerting. Like a daydream, it envelops you. Its stories of little indignities entertain, but then the pain lingers, spiraling into something much more arcane and haunting.
And they all begin and end with Ashley and Jeremy.
Royo shines as the principal character. He’s fast-talking and slick, with a rogue’s smile and the fashion sense of an uncle who still reserves Sundays for smoking his good cigars (emphatically pronounced “sih-gaaaahs”). However, underpinning his charm is a dark streak of selfishness that often results in his lashing out – in the case of his various run-ins with Linda and her new man, or, disrespecting others – from using Jeremy to rid his mother of a fridge to effectively using Nat’s time, energy and sexual comforts whilst he preps to woo Linda.
Conversely, George Sample III is a grounding and understated force. As Jeremy, he can be easily read as an archetypical idiot savant, but to say such would be an insult to both his acting and the writing of the character. No, Jeremy is something much more. With an easy smile and a dogged sense of loyalty to his grandfather, Jeremy is devoid of any of the slickness that Ashley provides, allowing for an almost uncanny genuineness to manifest. He is who he says he is and he does as he says he will. Sadly, while his earnest nature is heartwarming, it also creates a constant pathos point for the viewer as we watch him be taken advantage of by Ashley and medical professionals who test strange electrical nodes on him, and more.
Together, the two are a poetic odd couple who struggle to make it from point A to point B. And in concert with the entire cast, nuanced and non-preachy notions of poverty across the gender and age spectrum are understood. Hunter Gatherer is exceptional in that it portrays the layers of poor folks’ lives without slamming you over the head rhetorically. From Ashley and Jeremy’s visits to a pawn shop to their refrigerator business to Nat’s floating housing situation to Ashley’s adult learning, the film shows and doesn’t tell. These elements become normalized, as they would be in real life, versus some grandstanding message that Is Supposed To Teach You Something About How The Other Half Lives. It’s at once refreshing and crushing, as you realize how high the stakes are for our subjects when it comes to housing, employment and partnership.
In the film’s conclusion, things take a dark turn and we’re left with a puff of ambiguity. Was it all an illusion? Or maybe something more sinister? Hunter Gatherer doesn’t exactly unfold itself in a way to leave you too much time to spend thinking about these questions. Rather, the film places greater importance on Ashley and Jeremy. They are who we’ve come to know and perhaps we know them better when the credits roll. Like a passing reverie, they leave us with impressions and understandings, but no explicit answers. It’s a classic artsy fartsy film moment that reminded me of the much less coherent Memphis. But during my viewing of the film, sitting there on that plane with at least a couple other hundred souls, debating my own mortality hundreds of feet in the air, I wasn’t mad at it in the least.
Dap owns Timberland boots and is committed to loving black women, eating good food and diversifying media as he sees fit and while he can. He can be found yelling into the abyss and being snarky on the following: IG | Twitter