Time to Remember
Black or White is Hollywood's latest offering in its' "white people save the day" subgenre of feel-good movies that actually starts with the promise of a complex portrayal of it's flawed main character but inevitably wimps out in its pat ending.. Elliot Anderson (played by Kevin Costner who really does get better with age.) has just lost his wife in a tragic car accident. In a haze of mourning and alcohol, he attempts to carry on with the day to day care of his bi-racial Granddaughter Eloise (a beautifully un -affected Jillian Estelle) who he and his wife have raised since the tragic death of his daughter in childbirth. Hindered by his clueless-ness of even the most basic of things(brushing her hair, tying bows, and any kind of general interaction with the spunky youth) and by the ever-present glass of scotch in his hands, he is a miserable failure as a guardian.
The girls paternal Grandmother Rowena (Octavia Spencer at her feisty best) feels that (initially) custody should be shared- she lives with a tight core of extended family including other children- and feels the young girl would benefit from a female influence in her life, as well as one of heritage. She feels a wall between her and Anderson, one she claims is because he doesn't like "black people". Anderson poo-poos this notion (somewhat ineffectually) but does nothing to engender a stronger bond between the two families beyond giving an open invite for them to visit whenever they liked. His refusal to build the bridge between the two prompts Rowena to sue for full custody.
Now here is the question: Should the girl stay with the rich white man who has a lovely house in a nice neighborhood and sends her to a private school even though he has no experience with raising a child and drinks heavily or should she go with the Grandmother who is a self made business woman where she would be surrounded by loving family and kids in a possibly sketchy neighborhood (some thuggish types appear to live next door to Rowena's lovely house), providing the girl with a warm safe environment and a much needed maternal figure? Okay, doesn't seem that tough a question to me. She should go with her Grandmother. Even with Andersons attempts to acclimate to his new-found role as caretaker which he supplements by hiring a math tutor (Mpho Koaho as the industrious over-achiever, providing comic relief) who also doubles as his driver because he refuses to cut back on his drinking before breakfast, once the dust settles in his life, he will be going back to work full time. To me, that does not sound like "father of the year" material.
But wait- the girls biological father enters the picture and he is definitely not in the running for the award. Marred by a checkered past that includes drug addiction and a felony record, the father (Andre Holland in a tragically underwritten stereotype of a role- one of the other characters points out that he is a walking stereotype that makes all African-Americans look bad!) comes to Anderson to ask for money to disappear for the duration of the trial.
The film is bolstered by the strong performances of it's leads- Costner's third act monologue during the trial is a grand example of an actor in his prime, Spencer's fiercely protective Grandmother is always a joy to watch, and Anthony Mackie shines as Rowena's brother- a powerful lawyer in his own right who represents his sister.
Writer/Director Mike binder try's to tackle these hot-button issues in the most simplistic of ways- Anderson says, " It's not a question of black or white but a question of right or wrong". That could not be further from the truth. There are no easy answers to any of these questions- just shades of gray. He wimps out in the true examination of these deeply emotional and complex societal matters and opts for an easy scapegoat and miraculous only-in-the-movies kind of feel-good ending.
Definitely worth a rent, but shelling out $8 bucks at the local Cineplex? My feelings on this are a bit more cut-and-dried: No.
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