Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Blind Side (2009) by John Lee Hancock


Before I begin, I'll admit it: I'm a Sandra Bullock fan. The Oscar award-winning actress is skillfully funny, self-deprecating yet glamorous and adorably quirky. But everything you need to know about The Blind Side, starring Bullock and Quinton Aaron, you already saw in the preview. Based on an uncomfortably true story, the film follows Leigh Anne Tuohy (Bullock), a wealthy white interior designer who maternally falls in love with the seemingly asexual African-American teddy bear Michael Oher (Aaron). He's a homeless black teenager with few words, a troubled past, athletic potential and a penchant for protecting. She's a well-dressed and sassy mother of two who is quietly battling the unholy trinity of privilege, guilt and duty. Tuohy's Southern Christian heart strings are plucked when she sees "Big Mike" walking home in the rain in the only sopping T-shirt he owns. She takes him home, polishes him off, and, with patience, training and a little finger-wagging motivation, a football star is born.

Monosyllabic as he is, Michael is the only likeable character of color in the entire movie. Others (pun-intended) include a 40-ounce beer consuming 'hood menace and a hopelessly depressive unfit crack-addicted mother (played by Adriane Lenox with as much grace as she could get away with). Contrastingly, an ensemble of well-meaning noble white characters surround Michael for 2 hours and 6 minutes. They regularly wonder aloud if he's a stupid, violent thief. But, since he folds his clothes, does what he's told and says please and thank you, they supposedly overcome their prejudices and rally to teach, coach and cheer him on.

Of course, when a character refers to Michael as "King Kong," none of these sham allies come to his defense. Beyond implying that Michael might be a sexual threat to the Tuohy's pretty teenaged daughter, no compelling conversations are started about responsible trans-racial adoption. No one on screen seems too concerned that the Tuohys have no other friends of color in their cushy lives.

This is not the version of integration and racial harmony that I want to see.

The movie implies that anti-racist work is simply about charity; that social justice is achieved if a potential ally pulls a black kid out of the ghetto, changes his wardrobe and buys him a tutor. It's a creepy version of reparations; one in which a poor black person who aspires to succeed has to divorce the black community, assimilate with a smile and play grateful bodyguard to good Samaritan white folks.

I thought I would barf at the end of the movie when, dropping her pet protégé off at college, Leigh Anne threatens to cut off Michael's penis if he gets a girl pregnant. I mean WTF, Hollywood? Why do you spend millions of dollars making these obnoxious and offensive films? Why do you reward actresses for participating in this garbage? And America, are you kidding me? This is what you collectively spend $255,119,553 (as of March 29, 2010) to see? I spent $1.06 on the rental and I regret it. Socially and artistically―as a nation―we can do so much better.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wonderful World (2009) by Joshua Goldin


Last night, I rented Wonderful World, a funny film for thinkers, starring Matthew Broderick and Sanaa Lathan. Broderick plays Ben, a divorced pothead cynic who ceaselessly rails against "The Man." When his radiant, chess-playing Senegalese roommate Ibu (Michael Kenneth Williams) falls into a diabetic coma, Ben opens up his home to Ibu's visiting sister Khadi (Lathan). Patient, pretty and effortlessly seductive, Khadi spends her limited days in the U.S. dressing colorfully,
indulging in a selfless sneaker-shopping spree, leaning into her brother's hospital bed and sensually casting healing spells. Urgent romance ensues and tensions around class/culture/citizenship result in a merited slap. It's an unexpected take on the romantic comedy. Child actress Jodelle Ferland plays Ben's possibly lesbian daughter with Wednesday Addams-like adorability. There's even a touching scene where the sky rains fish!

I must admit, I winced when Khadi cooed, "The Senegalese love to dance," then broke out into an unwarranted and exoticized boogie in the middle of dude's sparsely furnished bachelor pad. But this time, the female interracial love interest isn't a blue feline creature from a distant planet. Like Neytiri, Khadi is fierce, protective, inexplicably supportive and invested in saving the hero...But she's human. I'll take human. Human's good. 

Overall, Wonderful World left me in a positive mood. It's cute, compelling, well-shot, well-written and well worth seeing.