SHE HATE MER
Spike Lee's She Hate Me is a wild and chaotic take on America's corporate and sexual values. Shot in a fast 26 days, the film has an off-the-cuff feel which makes up in enthusiasm what it lacks in polish. It also marks something of a stylistic diversion for Lee, as it eschews his customary realism to operate in a world which is part fantasy and part allegory. It's a scatty, cheeky film which rams together a number of diverse styles to make a provocative statement about the state of the nation.
More mainstream fans of Lee's work may well be taken aback. She Hate Me does bear many of his trademarks, like a multi-layered narrative. But the insouciant way it deals with controversial issues--business corruption and gay rights--may not endear it to a wide audience. Even Lee's diehard fans might wonder why he decided to make what will doubtlessly be remembered as his "lesbian movie."
The story centers on the hapless Jack Armstrong (Anthony Mackie), an honest executive with a pharmaceutical firm which claims to have developed a vaccine to cure AIDS. When his scientist colleague commits suicide, it's revealed that the drug company has been falsifying its research. Big boss Leland (Woody Harrleson) and his head honcho Margo (Ellen Barkin) plan a cover-up, but Jack decides to blow the whistle on the illegal activities. He does, and he's consequently kicked out of his office while the investigation takes place.
Then a second story strand takes over. The company manages to have Jack's bank account frozen, so Fatima (Kerry Washington), his ex-girlfriend turned lesbian, suggests he impregnate her and her Brazilian girlfriend for ten thousand dollars. He agrees, and soon Fatima's running a lucrative business involving Jack's sperm and her baby-mad lesbian friends. Jack makes a mint, but suddenly he's in court for both immoral behavior and business malfeasance, as his former company tries to pin the cover-up on him.
The business story works best, although there's less of it and it's very straightforward. Lee's depiction of corporate evil is basic, but he does make some interesting points about the plight of whistleblowers. Sections dealing with Frank Wills, the African-American security guard who discovered the Watergate break-in, are certainly poignant, and Lee makes the case for better treatment of those brave enough to ruin their lives by dishing the dirt on their colleagues and bosses.
The parallel lesbian story is very cluttered and often seems to be in search of a plot. Sometimes it reads like a satire on greed, at other times a manifesto for lesbian rights. The film ends with Jack telling the committee investigating his business doings to get lost--he's an innocent man in a corrupt world--and ties up by taking a stand for sexual tolerance.
Stylistically, the film is interesting. Instead of going for the subtle camera angles and laid-back irony of an arty Lee picture like Bamboozled, it blasts the point home Oliver Stone-style. CGI sections featuring Jack's sperm racing to impregnate a smiling egg are pure Almodžvar, while some of the office scenes have the detached, objective feel of a Kubrick. The sassy sex scenes seem to draw their inspiration from Lee's own debut, She's Gotta Have It.
She Hate Me won't be remembered as a major Lee offering. But it's so firmly rooted in its times, it will certainly raise a few eyebrows in the here-and-now. Lee is one of the few filmmakers who, no matter what the budget or production company, manages to bring a singular vision to his work. This frenzied, unusual film is another laudable example of that.
-Richard James Havis