Film Review – Entergalactic
On the surface, Entergalactic (2022) contains the familiar beats of a love story. Two people have a meet cute, share a connection, and fall for one another. It’s a tale as old as storytelling itself. But through the magic of music and animation, this version breathes new life. This is a wholly original undertaking, a visual wonder whose style surpasses its tropes. The brainchild of Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi, the film operates as a companion piece to his latest album of the same name. But this stands all on its own, evoking the energy of being young, living in the city, and falling in love.
Too often – at least in the American market – animation has been targeted toward children or families. Here, we get a fully adult story, with characters dealing with the messiness of romance, sex, work, and race. The animation takes on a bright and striking color palette, reminiscent of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018). But you will not find any superhero escapades here. Mescudi – in collaboration with co-creator Kenya Barris, director Fletcher Moules, and screenwriters Ian Edelman and Maurice Williams – use the animation as a psychedelic representation of characters’ mindsets. Backed by Mescudi’s music (as Kid Cudi), we’re taken on visual trips through outer space, Japanese anime, comic art, and kaleidoscopic flights of fancy.
Reading that last paragraph, one would think that this is merely a beautiful-looking head trip, but that is not the case. The narrative is firmly planted on the ground, divided into chapters like a novel. While detractors may argue that the plot is recycled, the execution is so unique that it feels brand new. We’re introduced to Jabari (Mescudi), a young graphic artist who moved to New York City to work for a comic publisher. In classic rom-com tradition, Jabari moves next door to Meadow (Jessica Williams), a photographer. This is one of those cases where artists can afford spacious apartments with perfect views of the Manhattan skyline. Unsurprisingly, Jabari and Meadow get to know one another and eventually fall in love.
Yes, this scenario is one we have seen thousands of times before. The “will they/won’t they” premise is so recognizable that we can see where things are going from a mile away. But the production side steps this issue by filling the background with distinct textures. From Jabari’s friends Jimmy (Timothée Chalamet) and Ky (Ty Dolla $ign), Meadow’s BFF Karina (Vanessa Hudgens), to even Jabari’s ex, Carmen (Laura Harrier), all the supporting characters inhabit their own spaces with color and personality. Sometimes, the narrative will stop in midstream to let someone tell a funny anecdote accompanied by a flashback. Part of the joy of Entergalactic is in simply seeing these characters living life in the Big Apple – working, playing, going to clubs or having a drink on a rooftop. The film isn’t interested in how one event leads to the next. The focus is on people trying to get by and obtaining their own versions of happiness.
But don’t get it twisted, Jabari and Meadow are the headliners. Their relationship is written, animated, and performed with natural, easy chemistry. One of the great choices was to make the characters resemble their real-life counterparts, which adds a layer of authenticity. Jabari and Meadow are developed as multi-dimensional people – they do not exist only to fall in love. We learn about Jabari’s conflicted feelings about working for a big publisher, and the possibility of having to compromise his art. In contrast, Meadow works to have her photography showcased at a gallery. She describes her feelings about living in the now and embracing small, fleeting moments of beauty. Meadow acts as the heart of the film, delivering monologues that cut right into the thematic core.
Entergalactic embraces its diversity. The production leans heavily into representing many backgrounds and perspectives. That’s why characters like skater Downtown Pat (Macaulay Culkin) will appear for one scene yet their presence leaves a rippling effect. This all comes to a head in the sequence with Nadia (070 Shake), a fellow artist. Nadia was assigned to showcase her installation in the same gallery as Meadow. Nadia makes the most of her space with large structures including (but not limited to) a giant pizza. In her introductory speech, Nadia explains how she tried to capture the mood of the city beyond the grays of the streets and buildings. She talks about her piece representing the multifaceted shades of the city and its people – it’s safe to assume that the film does the very same thing.
Even though the writing and direction has a modern flair, the central love story has an old school tone. In a time where technology has dominated social interaction, Jabari and Meadow’s relationship springs from an organic place. It’s no surprise that a running motif features a social dating app called “Stush,” which makes the whole idea of dating feel cold, robotic, and impersonal. It’s as though the narrative is arguing for us to put our phones and tablets down and connect with one another on a human level. Sure, this sounds a little hokey, but on screen the idea plays effectively. Texting or sending DMs will never be the same as simply going to a restaurant and sharing a meal with someone else.
Entergalactic is a gorgeous and vivid experience – a classic romance set against a backdrop rich in individuality, music, and culture. It is hilarious, sexy, and insightful at the same time. This is a feel good story that has something smart to say, and that’s not something many movies can attest to. I enjoyed every minute of this – I was wrapped up in the world from the first frame. And now, all I want is to watch it again.