Directed by: Charles Stone III
Written by: Tina Gordon Chism & Shawn Schepps
Starring: Nick Cannon, Zoe Saldana, Orlando Jones, Leonard Roberts, Jason Weaver
The way talent gets dispensed in life typically does not occur in a fair manner with hard work not always able to keep up with it. Some people just have the gift, which occurs in the battle of the percussion instruments, Drumline. Serving as both an entryway to a college culture not typically explored and a completely fun celebration of the arts, the cheesiness of it will melt away from the amount of enjoyment it will provide.
Recent high school graduate, Devon Miles (Nick Cannon) is entering his first-year at Atlanta A&T University and is set to join their prestigious marching band as a drummer. Upon his arrival, he quickly butts heads with his superiors as he brings loads of talent but a very little amount of discipline to match it.
Without a doubt, Drumline falls into the pile of films my mother had on DVD and I constantly rewatched. Through the years, its impact and complete bombastic nature never lost its charm because it seeks to celebrate not only marching bands but specifically Black marching bands along with the culture it carries in the city of Atlanta. Sure, it has its cheesy moments and this could not be described as a good acting performance by Nick Cannon, but everything else about it works so well that all of the negatives become immaterial.
The film wastes no time showing the struggle that will plague Devon throughout the film as his high school graduation plays a rendition of “I Believe I Can Fly,” where it calls for some tame notes for the drummers to play. Devon looks visually bored by the choice and in the middle of the performance, encourages the other drummers to follow his lead in jazzing up the refrain, which shocks everyone but the instructor sees the rest of the audience dancing along and allows for it to continue. This behavior works for Devon in high school, but going to a place like Atlanta A&T is a completely different beast. High schoolers face this all of the time where star athletes in secondary systems go to college and become just another player on the team. Devon has the talent to reach the top, but his antics will not be accepted in the same way. This makes him clash with upperclassman Sean Taylor (Leonard Roberts) who has no time for his games as one of the leaders of the band.
Marching band cultures vary by school and the amount of importance they are given in the social structure of the institution. For Atlanta A&T and the rest of their rival schools, the band is all that matters. It’s made explicitly clear in one of the performances where the football players have the most rudimentary uniforms, while the focus remains on the bands and their extravagant clothes. All of the fans in the stands want to wait for halftime because that’s when the bands get to hit the field and wow them and this film certainly delivers on the build-up. The scenes where the bands put together their choreographed pieces show great coordination and direction to demonstrate the difficulty of what they accomplish. I played in the band as a flutist up until high school and I cannot imagine memorizing all of the notes along with the necessary step and dance choreography. No chance, but it all looks seamless in the film and it truly highlights its most exciting strengths. Competition gets stiff when these bands get on the field and you can see why with the amount of talent on display.
In the build-up to the large competitions, the film spends most of the time with Devon and his group of friends as they go through the boot camp of getting accepted fully into the school band and everything that comes with getting acclimated to college. The rules set have their complexities and some moments display hazing to look down on, but it all sets the culture for how seriously this all gets taken. In the moments where these students hang out, their personalities begin to flourish and sparks begin to fly. Academics do not get stressed as they have no real importance as their culture of the band matches that of prestigious student-athletes. Their life becomes centered on the band.
Drumline undoubtedly was made for all the band geeks out there to show the amount of swagger can be displayed when dancing around with a snare drum. All of the large performances bring so much exhilarating energy to the film and nothing gets better than when the drumlines decide it all where they pull out all of the tricks from their sleeves to make their performances stand out. I can continually watch this film for the amount of fun it has with its premise and how it shines a light on a culture not really focused on in movies, which typically remains reserved for athletics and Greek life.