1999, Movies

Black and White (1999, James Toback)

This overly self-serious film combines the sanctimonious air of a Hollywood message movie with the production values of a late ’90s independent film (real locations, often very woody acting) with the ambition of Paul Thomas Anderson. And it’s a mess. An annoying, sometimes embarrassing, sometimes cringe-inducing, hilariously inauthentic film.

Apparently this movie was mostly improvised which, I guess, explains the shitty script. What I wonder about is, did they not have better takes? Or was Toback just content with some of this terrible dialogue? For instance: the high school teacher is such a Hollywood high school teacher, nothing like any teacher you’ve ever had. The kids (the wiggers) talk like they’re on the “urban” version of Dawson’s Creek, where they can reflect like teenagers never do.

The scenes featuring the better actors are definitely superior – there’s one hilarious scene with Downey hitting on a guy on a ferry (though Downey, a filmmaker, is in the film that’s ostensibly being made which feels like one shitty documentary) – as are some of the scenes featuring members of Wu Tang, who come off much more natural than the other amateur actors, some of whom are really wooden. Unfortunately both Downey (all the time) and Stiller (much of the time) think they are in a comedy, and play their scenes for laughs, more often than not. They’re good at doing it, but it’s the wrong movie.

The philosophical shit – whether it was improvised or not – is the kind of stuff an undergrad might write – and it makes the whole thing even worse. I mean, it’s one thing to have wooden acting and a script with such brutal expository dialogue (“You’re graduating this year”), but it’s another thing when the dialogue that does appear written out is so unsubtle. I mean, this film is like Crash-level unsubtle.

It all adds up to some really sub wannabe urban Nashville, about race instead of politics, which is so much worse than it could be because it is so fucking serious. (Downey is only occasionally funny, Stiller rarely.) It is not only preachy and overly ambitious, it’s dull and boring.

Don’t waste your time.


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