Unfolding over a mere 24 hours and featuring only two major characters, Medicine for Melancholy opens the morning after a drunken one-night stand involving a pair of young, hip, black San Franciscans: Micah (Cenac), an aggrieved aquarium installer native to the city, and Joanne (Heggins), a socially ambitious transplant. Micah convinces the initially standoffish Jo to spend the day with him, despite the fact that she’s living with another man who’s artistic, successful—and white. After cracking a joke about the absurdity of two black folks going to a museum (“It’s funny because it’s not funny,” he explains), Micah takes Jo (whose Facebook profile references Cahiers du Cinéma) to the Museum of the African Diaspora, which turns out to be only the beginning of her racial education.
Shot mostly in black and white and set to a laid-back indie-rock soundtrack, Medicine for Melancholy is suffused with such a buzzed, lazy-Sunday vibe that you hardly notice as the mood darkens along with the skies, with Micah’s trenchant views on race and gentrification coming to dominate both the couple’s conversations and the movie. Nothing if not timely, Medicine for Melancholy argues cogently against the notion of a postracial America. It’s easy to imagine how a film like this might look different in four or eight years, but it’s even easier to imagine why it wouldn’t.