Medicine for Melancholy

Medicine for Melancholy is a 2008 independent romantic drama film written and directed by Barry Jenkins. The film stars Wyatt Cenac, Tracey Heggins, and Elizabeth Acker.

Medicine for Melancholy
Film poster
Directed byBarry Jenkins
Produced by
  • Justin Barber
  • Cherie Saulter
Written byBarry Jenkins
CinematographyJames Laxton
Edited byNat Sanders
  • Strike Anywhere
  • Bandry
Distributed byIFC Films
Release date
  • March 7, 2008 (2008-03-07) (SXSW)
  • January 30, 2009 (2009-01-30) (United States)
Running time
88 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$111,551[2]

The film had its world premiere at South by Southwest on March 7, 2008. It was released in a limited release on January 30, 2009, by IFC Films.


Medicine for Melancholy chronicles the one-day romance of Micah (Wyatt Cenac) and Jo (Tracey Heggins), two black twenty-somethings who have a one-night stand and end up spending a full day and night together despite Jo's long-distance relationship with a wealthy white gallery owner. The characters wake up in someone else's bed after a party and head their separate ways. Jo leaves her wallet in their shared taxi and they reconnect when he returns it to her at her apartment. Throughout the day, Micah and Jo visit the Museum of the African Diaspora, stumble upon an affordable housing coalition meeting and attend a concert. Venturing around San Francisco, the characters discuss race and gentrification with regard to the low percentage of blacks living in San Francisco.[3] Micah is openly critical of Jo's interracial relationship as he struggles to reconcile his black identity with the predominantly white world of the hipster scene in San Francisco.


Jenkins wrote the film two years prior to its release.[4] Medicine for Melancholy mainly confronts themes of African American assimilation into "hipster" or "indie" culture. The city of San Francisco also emphasizes African-Americans as the minority, because African-Americans are seven percent of San Francisco's population.[3][4] Writer and director Barry Jenkins has described the film's two main characters as "playing out a debate back and forth about identity politics". Each of the two main characters embodies an ideology. Jenkins saw the character of Micah as a man who was always building barriers, whereas Jo thinks that race is a limiter.[5] Accusing Jo of assimilation, Micah strives to reclaim his essential "blackness" as Jo contrastingly claims Micah has a "hang up" about his race and strives to overcome her own. The film includes desaturation of images.[4] Filmmakers went through the film shot by shot and pulled out the majority of color. In an interview, director Barry Jenkins stated that certain scenes in the film have more color to reflect when the characters are not thinking about race or housing issues.[5]


The film had its world premiere at South by Southwest on March 7, 2008.[6] It went onto screen at the Los Angeles Film Festival on June 20, 2008.[7] Shortly after, IFC Films acquired distribution rights to the film.[8] It also screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in September,[9] and at the Mar del Plata International Film Festival in November where it was nominated for Best Film.[10] It was released in a limited release on January 30, 2009.[11]

Critical reception

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3.5 out of 4 stars, calling the actors "effortlessly engaging" and the direction "assured"; he also noted the film was "beautifully photographed".[12] It was a New York Times Critics' Pick[13] and nominated for three 2008 Independent Spirit Awards.[14] On Rotten Tomatoes, it has an 83% fresh rating.[15]


Award Category Recipient(s) and nominee(s) Result Ref(s)
Independent Spirit Awards Best First Feature Medicine for Melancholy Nominated [16]
Best Cinematography James Laxton Nominated
Someone to Watch Award Barry Jenkins Nominated
Mar del Plata International Film Festival Best Film Barry Jenkins Nominated [18]
San Francisco Film Critics Circle Marlon Riggs Award Barry Jenkins Won [19]


  1. Stephenson, Will. "Barry Jenkins Slow-Cooks His Masterpiece". The Fader. Retrieved 2016-10-22.
  2. "Medicine for Melancholy (2009)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 22 October 2016.
  3. U.S. Census Bureau. "San Francisco County Quickfacts". Archived from the original on 13 July 2011. Retrieved 5 March 2012.
  4. Lim, Dennis (21 January 2009). "With 'Medicine for Melancholy,' Barry Jenkins Examines Race and a Future Beyond It". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 October 2016.
  6. "Schedule". South by Southwest. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  7. Honeycutt, Kirk (July 1, 2008). "Medicine for Melancholy". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  8. "IFC Films Acquires Worldwide Rights to Award Winning Medicine for Melancholy". AMC Networks. June 18, 2008. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  9. Hernandez, Eugene (September 14, 2008). ""Medicine For Melancholy" Director Barry Jenkins". Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  10. "Medicine for Melancholy open the international competition". Cine Vivo. Retrieved November 7, 2008.
  11. "Medicine for Melancholy". Apple Trailers. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  12. Ebert, Roger. "Medicine for Melancholy Movie Review (2009) - Roger Ebert".
  14. Olsen, Mark. "Watch: Barry Jenkins' anticipated indie drama 'Moonlight' starring Mahershala Ali and Janelle MonĂ¡e". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 29 October 2016.
  15. "Medicine for Melancholy".
  16. Morris, Wesley. "The 24th Spirit Awards". Retrieved 29 October 2016.
  17. "Film Independent Spirit Awards: 31 Years of Nominees and Winners" (PDF). Retrieved 29 October 2016.
  18. "Mar del Plata International Film Festival 2008".
  19. "Bay Area film critics love 'Hurt Locker'". The San Francisco Examiner. Retrieved 29 October 2016.
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