What happens in Please Forgive Me, the roughly 20-minute short film Drake released early Monday morning through Apple Music? Pretty much nothing.
We can agree that it doesn’t illuminate anything about Drake on a personal level, aside from that perhaps he recently discovered Indecent Proposal, the skeevy ’90s classic in which an eccentric millionaire, played by Robert Redford, offers a poor-but-smitten couple, played by Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore, a grip for one night with the wife. Please Forgive Me is only intriguing when a similar plot begins to unfold, and Drake’s character encourages his lady friend, played by Fanny Neguesha, to say yes to a similar offer. Surely the titular plea for forgiveness will stem from Drake’s inevitable discomfort and macho paranoia about the arrangement, which will inevitably lead to the crumbling of the relationship after she goes through with what he first suggested she do. (Aside: If Drake’s discovering ‘90s classics, he ought to revisit the ransom negotiation scene from Austin Powers. Proposal’s price was right, but in 2016 a mil seems low, my guy.) Except this isn’t what happens.
Drake and scene-stealer Popcaan interrupt the affair before it goes down; the psychosexual drama was a ruse to steal the cash (which would’ve been Drake’s to split with his love interest anyway, right?). They wear ski masks, as if the creepy henchman they choose to leave alive would have any doubt about who’s doing the double-crossing. The underworld boss Drake and friends robbed threatens them over FaceTime, which is all it takes for Drake to return the money as a peace offering, driving directly to the vaguely defined Bad Guy’s HQ—which, looks like the decrepit temple from OG Blade, even though my guy has a casual mil to spend on sex. This leaves Drake’s girl chilling—unguarded!—in the car outside. Which makes it very easy for her to get killed by two female twins, both armed to the teeth. Meanwhile, the olive branch extension back in the Blood God’s temple devolves into a shootout. But then it turns out that giving the money back was yet another ruse—the briefcase Drake handed over is lined with explosives, which Drake triggers to kill the Bad Guy. To reiterate: the money Drake and Popcaan went out of their way to steal is blown to paper bits. What is Drake sorry for? Getting his girlfriend killed by executing the dumbest heist ever written? You wouldn’t know it, apart from the halfway-anguished stare into the camera he gives, highlighted by a blood trickle down the right side of his face that resembles a tear: art.
This short isn’t successful, not as an extension of Drake’s story as an artist, not even as superficial entertainment. It’s pointless. But it didn’t have to be. Think back to the video for “HYFR,” in which Drake parties at his adult Bar Mitzvah with the likes of Wayne, Baby, and DJ Khaled (and introduced the world to scene-stealer OB OBrien). That video finally broke his streak of aggressively mediocre Doing The Most music videos by delivering a real crowd pleaser. The video is short, self-aware and self-effacing (insert young Drake dancing gif). It’s the first instance—visually, that is—of Drake creating content in which he’s in on the joke, laughing with us laughing at him, while laughing at us for eating it up so vigorously. The proto-“Hotline Bling,” as it were.
If we consider those two videos the best Drake has to offer, then the recipe for success is crystal clear—6ix God is at his best when doesn’t take himself too seriously. When it comes to creating serious art, though, he’s his own worst enemy. We saw this with his first-stab at an artsy short in last year’s forgettable Jungle, a brick cushioned by the inclusion of new music from the semi-surprise release, If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late. And when he’s not reaching for TIFF credibility that’s out of his grasp, he can fall on the other equally regrettable end of spectrum: woefully goofy. Take last month’s lopsided video for “Child’s Play.” The first half is brilliant in its directness, a literal dramatization of the awkward couples’ spat in Cheesecake Factory we hear described in the lyrics. Then all of Tyra Banks’ cake-smooshing momentum gets waylaid by an insanely long (but requisite) OB OBrien cameo that renders every subsequent scene a dead-eyed afterthought. (The same can be said of the otherwise enjoyable “Worst Behaviour”; “Started” just barely manages to skirt a similar fate.) Drake’s best mode of expression is apparent to everyone but Drake, it seems. Or else, he’s too stubborn to stick with what works.
When Kanye puts nude celebrity likenesses in bed in a video for his song about fame, love it or hate it, he achieves the desired level of provocation. When Drake grafts his likeness onto fellow TMZ-bait A-listers in a video for his song about...flexing on his enemies...the result is a puzzling misfire, best left forgotten. Beyoncé releases extended-length visuals with her albums that inform and expand upon the accompanying music and its themes. They’re obviously created holistically, conceived of as audio-visual work from the jump.
Please Forgive Me is incoherent, even if judged as a music video, rather than the short film it desperately wants to be. The music cues barely make sense—why, when Drake’s girlfriend gets ventilated, is the chest-thumping VIEWS title track/album closer playing? It doesn’t exactly yell tragedy. PFM’s cinematography is great, sure, but much like the equally great production on VIEWS, it counts for little without any fortifying substance. Where is the content? Something that went full Demi and Woody, and thus engaged with the themes of pettiness, insecurity, and bitterness that dominate Drake’s songs about women would’ve been juicier. He’s never more interesting in the film than the brief moment at 2:20 second mark where he tells his girlfriend to go for it. I don’t know what Drake was aiming for here, but it wasn’t another “Hotline Bling” social media blitz. There are no memes, no fodder for Best GIFs articles. Much like the album, the artistic climate into which this has been released does it no favors. It’s a junior year film project while his peers are turning in graduate dissertations.