Do a Shot: when you see Eloise show how she loves her grandfather.
Take a Bodyshot: when you see the sass come out of Rowena.
Shotgun a Beer: when the climatic “showdown” happens.
Down a 32 oz with your favorite beer: when Costner’s monologue comes along. It is worth it.
By: Jake Turner (Two Beers) –
In today’s world, our culture is a meticulous punching bag. Through the world of social media, we get overreaction on some of the most inane subjects. Our latest was the “controversy” over the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. Amazing how quiet on the western front we are about that now.
However, when it comes to race issues, the pendulum is heavy-handed toward one side or the other, which splits critics and audiences easily. Suddenly, a film that dares to be fair and look beyond the color of our skin comes along and is ignored. That film was Black or White.
I had the luck to finally see this little film directed by Mike Binder and co-financed by Kevin Costner.
Smart, Relativity Media, Smart (eyeroll).
I have always been a fan of Costner (more today than back in his 80’s heyday). I still believe Costner’s best performance was in his nostalgic western homage, 2003’s Open Range. His performance as Elliot Anderson is the best he’s been since then. Anderson loses his wife to cancer and is left with taking care of his granddaughter, Eloise (make sure you spell it right) played by Jillian Estell. At the same time, he has his own issue of being an alcoholic while dealing with his granddaughter’s dad who resurfaces because his mother, Rowena Jeffers (Octavia Spencer), is looking for full custody of Eloise.
Costner stretches his versatility to channel being an alcoholic while trying to stay sober enough to take care of his granddaughter. It shows how great of an actor he is when he stays low-key. He just knows how to deal with complex characters and their issues in a humane way, never jumping into caricature territory. Spencer also makes good use of her time in the film, whether it is lashing out during pre-trial, confronting her son, or running her real estate business out of her garage. Spencer shows that when she’s onscreen, she will deliver.
Director Mike Binder continues to take chances with his filmmaking. I already know that he is an “on the fence” filmmaker with critics. Even while loving The Upside of Anger they were “meh” about Reign Over Me and I feel that with Black or White the title becomes ironic and he throws in dashes of comedy that feel real. Especially with Estell and Costner, like when she wants her grandfather to yell at her with authority in order to brush her teeth.
Because she wants him to.
Not going to lie, I chuckled.
Binder finds a way to show that this isn’t about race. It is more about the mistakes and flaws that family as a whole have to deal with. This is taking a chance with how stereotypes dominate today’s culture- look at the title for proof.
I can see why Binder is an “on the fence” filmmaker. He has trouble trying to balance out his story with too much genre-bending. At one time it was a comedy, then a family drama, then a Lifetime courtroom drama. Finally it ends on a gripping, though predictable, note. I would like for someone, just once in the film, to stay the course and make their point without getting carried away.
Also, I didn’t like how the supporting cast underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, I could watch Costner and Spencer interact anytime, anywhere, but I was surprised at how good Andre Holland (as Reggie Davis, Eloise’s dad) and comedian Bill Burr (as Anderson’s lawyer) were in this film. These were one-note characters all the way, but they found a way to stretch them at times. Maybe I am griping, but when you have a strong supporting cast like this, I just want things a little more fleshed out.
Black or White wore its social courage badge well, with outstanding performances and a storyline that wants us to go beyond the color of a person’s skin, along with putting our human flaws front and center. Believe me, there are gripping and honest moments that outdo its flaws. Black or White raises an outside-the-box question as to whether it is the actions or persona of a person that matters more.
PS: I know I neglect to bring up the race of the actors. I had no reason to stereotype, like the film.