Flex is Kings is a riveting and awe-inspiring look inside the world of Brooklyn street dancing known as ‘flexing.’ Directors Michael Beach Nichols and Deidre Schoo take audiences along on the emotional journey of several young dancers; dancers who vie for a chance to make something of themselves by battling it out through this DIY art form. In the Brooklyn neighborhood of East New York, high crime rates and diminished opportunities have left the young men growing into adulthood with few choices and fewer resources, pushing so many to lives to depend on crime and gangs. On these streets a dance community rose, eager for an avenue of expression and determined to create a positive force in their neighborhood.
Dj Aaron, Anime, Kareem Baptiste, Raynold Jarell Blackman, Roger 'Dragun' Blake, Reginald Cool Cakes, Jamar 'Soup' Campbell, Jonathan 'Showoff' Cespedes, Jermaine 'Flizzo' Clement, Comix, Ringmaster Corey, Drew Dollaz, Jay Donn, Element, Samuel Estavien, Jonathan Kal-el Gibson, Hammed 'Hamlet' Giwa, Graphix, Tyriece 'Stepz' Green, Steve 'Stickz' Harvey
I’ll admit to being a square without prior knowledge of the dance known as flexing. I’d seen it plenty of times before in various viral videos of talent shows and street performers. But, as with any subject that warrants a documentary, there’s a bigger collective from this style born in the streets of Brooklyn. The dancers utilize their raw emotions of violence and channels it into a performance that appears as the grittiest of dance duels. It sounds pretty flashy and it actually is considering the way that dancers will utilize everything in their power to wow from fancy footwork to magic tricks. But it still doesn’t feel like enough to warrant a documentary that takes a bigger lens to the subject than it probably requires.
The documentary works best in how it contrasts two path of the flex dance scene from two Brooklyn dancers. On one end, we see successful stage actor Jay on the rise - using his dance skills to perform in staged productions. He’s overjoyed to finally put his moves to good use in a big play of Pinocchio with the starring role being provided to him. Working closely with the director, they work out the style and vision of the play with his choreography. Soft-spoken and all too friendly, Jay has arrived as he prepares to perform for Edinburgh’s Festival Fringe.
On the other side of the coin is Flizzo. Despite his living conditions and lack of funds, he is well known and highly regarded as a master of the flex style. What he lacks in agile structure he more than makes up for with theatrics. For one of his latest tricks, he trains himself to hold a bird in his mouth and release it upon finishing his piece. His practice is fruitful in how he can really play to a crowd and wow the judges of flex competitions. Considering Flizzo used to be a drug dealer, his focus on flex is a decent use of his time the way it brings joy to many. Even as a new father, he still maintains a hold on his legacy.
While comparing Jay and Flizzo offers a unique scope of the dance, it doesn’t exactly make the best narrative. While not on the dance floor or the streets with their moves, they spend all their time practicing and talking about dancing. Jay gets some practice playing to a crowd on the streets - moving his feet on the ground while eyes bulge in amazement. Meanwhile, Flizzo spends most of his time outside of family teaching kids how to do the flex. And he takes his sessions very seriously. Some of the kids he instructs find themselves lost and giggling when they mess up. Flizzo pressures them not to smirk or laugh in their sets. If they don’t take it seriously, nobody else will either.
But perhaps the flex dancing is taken too seriously. The way some of these parents act around their kids - encouraging them to maintain face on this activity - is somewhat depressing. I understand that many of these kids don’t have much and that something as simple as flex could be pulling them back from the brink. But is it really all that important in their lives? The way the documentary stages the footage makes it appear as a sports drama where nothing else matters. It’s most likely because we don’t see much else that matters.
For all the bark that it displays, there’s certainly some bite. Directors Michael Beach Nichols and Deidre Schoo know how to shoot these dance competitions and performances to really make them shine. They use plenty of slow motion and unique angles to capture all the glory and theatrics that these dancers showcase. Every contorted limb, every fast foot and every stylish confrontation with gravity is beautifully captured on film. While Flex is Kings never really delivers on a captivating story of the struggling dancers, it at least entertains with what they spend most of their lives working for.
You rated this film: 3
Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Classification is to be confirmed by the British Board of Film Classification