Big thanks to DC Girl at the Movies for calling my attention to this excellent film, which I hadn’t even heard of. Talk to Me tells the true story of Petey Greene (Don Cheadle), an ex-con who becomes an extremely successful radio dj in the late 1960’s and 70’s. His rise in the industry is aided by Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a producer for the WOL station in Washington, DC, who becomes his good friend and later manager. Over the course of several years, Petey contends with alcoholism and rabid fans while becoming a spokesperson for civil rights following Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination.
For a good chunk of this movie I just kept thinking, “Damn, that Chiwetel Ejiofor is cute, and also a good actor. Why isn’t he the star of more movies?” He doesn’t exactly steal the show from Don Cheadle, who is lively and raucous as the multi-faceted Greene, but he does fascinate as the more low-key Hughes. He slips between over-serious pretension and unaffected street jive with offputting ease, and I really loved his intelligent and excitable character. Cheadle and Ejiofor are so strong as the leads that it’s easy to forget the excellent supporting work from Taraji P Henson and Martin Sheen, but they are totally great as well. I especially enjoyed Henson’s many rad hairstyles.
With a script that aptly blends heart-wrenching drama, unexpected comedy, and familiar historical events, Talk to Me is an extremely watchable, accessible, and entertaining partial-biopic. The filmmakers smartly reel the central focus away from Greene’s notorious antics on and off-air, choosing instead to highlight the friendship between Greene and Hughes and their effect on one another. All of the historical stuff and music and alcohol problems and activism is still there, but often worked in around their relationship. I didn’t know anything about the real Petey Greene before seeing the film, so I’m not sure how accurate it is, but either way it’s a great film that captures the spirit of a certain place, time, and people while showcasing a complex and interesting friendship. I hope to see more from director Kasi Lemmons soon!
Pair This Movie With: I think it’d make a cool double feature with The Runaways, which gives an insider perspective on another music scene in the 70’s. Plus they’re both directed by ladies! What a coincidence.