Saturday, March 18, 2017

GET OUT (2017)

Written & Directed by Jordan Peele

Where & When: Arclight Cinemas, Hollywood, CA. February 25, 2017 9:15 PM

The subject of race relations in America is not tackled too often in cinema. And when it is attempted, it can be either heavy-handed or overly simplified. "Get Out", Jordan Peele's audacious debut as a director, manages to handle the volatile subject with purpose, thoughtfulness and a surprising amount of humor. What makes this feat even more impressive is that the film is fundamentally a horror flick, a very unlikely genre to deal with this complicated issue.

After only dating for a few months, Chris Williams (Daniel Kaluuya), a handsome, African-American photographer has been invited to spend the weekend upstate to meet the parents of Rose Armitage, his Caucasian girlfriend, played by Allison Williams, a co-star of HBO's "Girls", making her film debut. While he's very concerned about her folks reaction to bringing him home to meet the family, particularly since she hasn't mentioned his race, Rose, who has never actually dated an African-American before, reassures him that it's fine as they are liberal and open minded.

When the two reach the home of Rose's parents, Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener), they are more than welcoming. In fact, Dean seems to go out of his way in an attempt to bond with Chris, telling him that he would have proudly voted for Obama for a third term if he could. What does make Chris really uncomfortable are the family's black servants, Georgina (Betty Gabriel), the housekeeper and Walter (Marcus Henderson), the gardener. It is not their position in the home but their odd behavior and strange lack of personality.

The longer Chris stays with the Armitages, the weirder his situation becomes in the house. Missy, a psychiatrist, strongly dislikes him smoking around her daughter. She offers to hypnotize Chris to help him stop which he politely declines. Yet unwillingly he finds himself paralyzed under her spell and losing the desire for a cigarette in the process. During an annual gathering at the home, the very white guests treat Chris as a quaint curiosity. The only other black guest (LaKeith Stanfield) also acts strangely but he seems familiar to Chris. Looking like someone who disappeared from the city a few months ago, he takes his picture to show his buddy, Rod (Lil Rel Howery) but the flash causes the man to freak out, warning Chris to escape from this town.

As one half of the former African-American comedy team, Key & Peele, Mr Peele touched on race frequently on their popular skit television show, offering pointed yet hilariously witty commentary on the issue. Horror movies are very popular with African-Americans but when there is a black character in one of these films, guess who is usually the first victim to fall under the knife of the homicidal killer? With "Get Out", Peele wanted to finally make one from their perspective, exploring some of the things that actually frightens black people living in 21st century America. The film keeps the racial tension tightly wound, playing with our usual expectations in regards to common social interactions between blacks and whites while brilliantly upending those expectations in some very humorous and occasionally scary ways.

Samuel L. Jackson (who else?) has questioned the casting of the British-Ugandan actor, Kaluuya in the role of an African-American, unsure if he understands the history well enough to be effective in the role. That Brits and Aussies of all races are taking acting jobs away from actual Americans is maybe something Donald Trump should look in to but racism is hardly a problem only understood in America. With his burning intensity and soulful, expressive eyes, it's quite understandable why Mr. Kaluuya was cast. It is however Milton "Lil Rel" Howery, a stand-up comedian currently seen on "The Carmichael Show", that almost steals the film. As Chris' best friend and a TSA officer, Howery hilariously plays detective trying to help his buddy figure out exactly what is going on with the black folks in this crazy town. And the great Catherine Keener is finally back on the big screen, effectively managing to make a teacup menacing and gives a whole new meaning to the term, "controlling mother".

Despite the shaky logic behind the sinister conclusion and the unfortunate generic title, "Get Out" is a thrilling and razor-sharp satire on race in our society, particularly in this current political climate, that is equally terrifying and looney. Mr Peele has capably crafted a new American horror classic and has promptly introduced himself as an inventive filmmaker to watch.