Reel Reviews | Small Axe (Lover’s Rock)

by Charles Kirkland Jr.

The Small Axe series of Amazon Prime continues with a stone-cold Jamaican house party in Lovers Rock.

Cynthia (Ellis George) is having a birthday so she and her friends decide to go to the party.  Not just any party but a Jamaican house party!  Can the church girl make it through a night of raucousness unlike any that she has experienced in her life?

Written and directed by Steve McQueen, Lovers Rock stars George with Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn, Micheal Ward, Shaniqua Okwok, and Kedar Williams-Stirling.

As a part of the Small Axe series (named from the Jamaican proverb that even a small axe can cut down a large tree), McQueen celebrates two things:  the community of the Jamaican house party and the music.  During the time in the early ‘80s as a result of the racial tensions that existed, Jamaicans were unable to find clubs where they were able to party so they would just hold personal parties for the neighborhood in a local home.  These parties would be a Saturday night affair complete with food (for sale), a DJ, and a couple of bouncers.  With everything from the massive mosh pit to the sweat dripping down the walls, McQueen captures that atmosphere perfectly.

The second thing is the celebration of the music.  The movie starts with ladies singing the dancehall classic “Silly Games” by Janet Kaye and it never stops.  Lovers Rock is a term used to describe the style of romantic reggae music that permeates the soundtrack of the movie and that soundtrack seems to never stop.  There is a beautiful scene when “Silly Games” is sung again by all the women on the dance floor and there is a mosh pit scene where the men smash into each other to The Revolutionaries “Kunta Kinte Dub.”  It is such a powerful scene that the song is rewound and played again.  The whole time McQueen documents the atmosphere with a historical documentarianism that forces the viewers to be deeply connected with what is being seen on a deep emotional level.

Just like all of his work, McQueen is takes a very deliberate pacing in the film.  There is a story that happens in the film that centers around Cynthia’s birthday and the church girl Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) finding love in the club.  The storylines are not very important and exist solely to illustrate the diversity of the partygoers and the universal pros and cons of the club scene.  This movie is really about the music it was named after.

Again like the first in the series, McQueen also does not shy away from authenticity in this film.  The words, the accents, and the rhythms are definitely Jamaican.  He courageously uses only Jamaican actors, many newcomers and little-known bit actors, to play all the Jamaican roles. 

Rated TV-MA for profanity, alcohol, drugs, and smoking and frightening and intense scenes, Lovers Rock is a beautifully rich and romantic visual and auditory experience that has to be borne out of a love and respect for the Saturday night parties of a time gone past.

Grade:  B+