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With: Steven Silver, Spencer Neville, Nicola Peltz, Sammi Rotibi, Tembi Locke, David James Elliott
Written by: Stanley Kalu
Directed by: Ali LeRoi
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 104
Date: 02/26/2021

The Obituary of Tunde Johnson (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Bullet Points

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It doesn't make the most of its time-loop conceit, but The Obituary of Tunde Johnson nonetheless tackles issues of LGBTQ+ identity and police violence with a clear-headedness drawn from love and pain, rather than rage.

High-schooler Tunde (Steven Silver) comes out to his Nigerian-born parents, and is elated when they reassure him and offer their support. In high spirits, he heads to the birthday party of his white, athletic boyfriend Soren (Spencer Neville), but is pulled over by the cops. When he reaches for his ringing phone, the cops shoot him. Unexpectedly, Tunde wakes up, very much alive, and it's the same day again.

As the day repeats again and again, Tunde must confront several issues, including the fact that Soren hasn't yet come out, and is in a cover-up sexual relationship with Tunde's best friend Marley (Nicola Peltz). But at the end of each day, Tunde faces yet more police violence.

Indeed, the strangest thing about The Obituary of Tunde Johnson is the fact that Tunde wakes up in the same day every day, and more or less shrugs and goes about his day-to-day activities, as if nothing strange were going on. (He seems to consider all of it a hallucination brought on my his medication.) Although perhaps even more striking is that he never seems shaken by the police violence he experiences every day; perhaps he's numb to it, or perhaps he just instinctively knows he must keep on going, no matter what.

Watching the police scenes escalate to bloody conclusions is harrowing, mainly because the scenes are simultaneously shocking and heartbreakingly inevitable. No less affecting are the issues surrounding a gay relationship, and the perpetual fear of alienating conservative parents — Soren's father (David James Elliott) is a contentious right-wing TV commentator — and fair-weather high school friends.

Comedy-veteran screenwriter (Head of State, Half Brothers) and creator of Everybody Hates Chris and Are We There Yet? Ali LeRoi makes his feature directing debut with The Obituary of Tunde Johnson, and it's a striking change of pace, sensual and deeply-felt.

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