Review by Sean Boelman
Edson Jean’s feature debut Ludi has the best of intentions, hoping to be a compassionate portrait of multiculturalism in America. Yet despite getting off to an enormously strong start, the film loses much of its steam as it falls back on white apologist tropes that keep it from being as hard-hitting as it could be.
The movie follows a hardworking nurse who takes an unsanctioned side job in private care in an attempt to make ends meet and fulfill her idea of the American Dream. Particularly in this time in which healthcare workers are especially in the spotlight, this story has the potential to resonate with audiences in a unique way.
Unfortunately, there is a tonal shift heading into the second half that is extremely jarring. The first half sets up this compelling psychodrama about a woman coming to her breaking point, but then it turns into a sentimental crowd-pleaser. It goes from one extreme to another of feeling entirely authentic to being really melodramatic.
It is very frustrating when the film introduces the grumpy old white man character whose arc is to learn to be more open-minded thanks to the assistance of the Black protagonist. And once this becomes the central force in the story, the protagonist’s arc goes out the window, especially since there is a painfully obvious twist that undermines her growth in the movie.
Even though the film is far from bad, it ends up being a bit of a letdown because it seems afraid of taking any risks. There needs to be more stories about women of color, particularly about immigrant women of color, as their voice is one that is not often represented in the media, but to write the character in service of a white man is simply embarrassing.
The movie is largely saved by the efforts of lead actress Shein Mompremier, who gives an extremely nuanced performance. She is the only thing that keeps the film grounded when it threatens to become maudlin in the second half. Alan Myles Heyman’s performance is fine for what it is, but it’s a very one-note and exaggerated turn.
It is in a stylistic sense that Jean’s movie shows the most potential. He is clearly a very talented filmmaker with an energetic style, and it will make for a great voice if only he applies it to a script that is less disingenuous. Especially in the first half, the cinematography and soundtrack give the movie a sense of momentum that is infectious.
Ludi features a very compelling lead character within a story that drags the film’s potential impact down. There are enough moments of ambition to make it worthwhile, but it’s sad to see another opportunity at great representation be wasted.
Ludi is screening as a part of the 2021 Miami Film Festival, which runs in person and online from March 5-14, 2021.