Hav Plenty: Cherot’s All Black Romantic Comedy

Wittier and more deftly constructed than love jones, though not as technically polished, Hav Plenty, the all-black screwball comedy, chronicles the fables and foibles of a set of educated and sophisticated twentysomething blacks.

Miramax’s romantic comedy should score high among black middle-class viewers who embraced love jones and most recently Soul Food. With the right marketing and handling, pic should achieve a crossover appeal beyond the black milieu.

First-timer Christopher Scott Cherot makes a splashy debut as writer, director, editor and star of a fresh, bitter-sweet, modern-day love story that recalls the early work of Woody Allen.

Reversing the strategy of Spike Lee’s similarly themed She’s Gotta Have It, Cherot put at the center of his irresistible comedy an attractive male rather than a female.

Cherot plays Lee Plenty, an always-broke, would-be novelist, who tends to shock people with his homeless stories. Lee’s been living on the streets of New York and off his friends, while waiting for the big break. Indeed, one of his best friends happen to be the very rich, successful and ravishingly beautiful Havilland Savage (Chenoa Maxwell), who invites him to a quiet and intimate gathering at her affluent family’s Washington D.C. home for New Year’s Eve.

Like most screwball comedies, Hav Plenty begins schematically by establishing two appealing characters that are both opposite and complementary in their personalities. Hav is a woman who has everything but love; Lee is a man who has nothing but love. Lee is passive, Hav is aggressive. Lee is energetically unambitious, Hav is always on the make. Lee is a dedicated celibate, Hav is engaged to be married. Very much in the tradition of Hollywood chestnuts of yesteryear, everyone but Hav and Lee know that despite a pile of obstacles and divergent lifestyles they’re destined to be together.

What starts as a nice and quiet holiday outing for Lee turns into a chaotic weekend full of surprises, with Lee functioning as the desirable male for every woman in the multi-level household. Caroline (Tammi Jones), Hav’s pretentious, high-maintenance friend, shamelessly lusts after his body. Leigh (Robinne Lee), Hav’s newlywed but still uncertain sister, says she only seeks Lee’s company, but in actuality, she won’t object to one “friendly” kiss in the kitchen. Hav’s old prep school pal, Bobby (Kim Simmons) wants to share secrets with Lee. Only Hav’s bright and prescient grandmother is forthright in declaring that it’s Lee’s fate to marry Hav.

A shrewd writer, Cherot is careful not to repeat Wincher’s mistake in love jones, in which the love birds were permitted to consummate their relationship too soon; Wincher’s pic lost a good deal of its narrative momentum once that happened. Cherot also knows that the trick of romantic comedy is to invent plausible–and implausible–obstacles to what the audience perceives as unavoidably true love. Indeed, in defiance of Hollywood conventions, Hav Plenty is a romantic comedy in which the adult protagonists don’t act like kids–and don’t try to be overly cute.

Acting across the board is lively and alert, with a standout central performance by Cherot, whose nonthreatening good looks and easygoing charm make it abundantly clear why every woman in the film falls for him.

Hav Plenty’s attributes–raw look, low-budget, modest production values–actually work in its favor, for they not only highlight Cherot’s gifts as a vigorous writer, but also separate his movie from most studio romantic comedies which tend to be sleek, sterile and contrived. Judging by his maiden effort, Cherot emerges as a major talent to watch.