Saturday, August 12, 2017

"Get Out" Gets It Done

I often feel a little hesitant when talking about media that tackles race, especially the experiences of African-Americans.  I am painfully whitebread (despite not being white), and know very few black or Latino people socially.  It doesn't feel like my place to get into the often heated discussions about race in American culture, especially where it involves police brutality and other topics where African-Americans are disproportionately affected.

So when "Get Out" started attracting a massive amount of discussion, I felt a little worried at first.  Was this going to be another movie like "Moonlight" where I'd struggle to connect?  "Get Out," is the directing debut of Jordan Peele, of "Key & Peele," a comedic thriller about a young black man, Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya), who goes to meet the family of his white girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) one weekend.  At first Rose's well-to-do dad (Bradley Whitford), mom (Catherine Keener), and brother (Caleb Landry-Jones) seem like perfectly average people.  However, their behavior is a little odd, and the behavior of the black housekeeper and groundskeeper are very odd.  Chris can't quite shake the sinister feeling that something else is going on.

And there is plenty going on.  In fact, there is so much going on in "Get Out," so many little jabs at people's race-conscious behaviors and assumptions, so much sharp commentary on racial issues, and so many bits of coded dialogue to unpack, that I could spend this entire post just enumerating all the ways that the movie talks about race the way so few movies this day actually talk about race.  It was kind of exhilarating to recognize some of those little microaggressions from the first half of the film as ones that I've been on the receiving end of before.  Different circumstances of course, but I found that I could relate in ways I wasn't expecting at all.     

And the best part is, the movie is so thoroughly entertaining.  There are a lot of little uncomfortable moments, but Peele uses that to fuel the tension of the larger plot.  All the seemingly normal awkwardness between Chris and Rose's family builds up into a wonderful paranoid thriller scenario that's simultaneously hilarious and pretty scary.  Many scenes simply would not play as well if the viewer doesn't have some knowledge of the current racial tensions in America, especially surrounding African-American men.  And the commentary goes down so much easier because it's couched in such familiar, enjoyable cinematic terms.  

Daniel Kaluuya and Allison Williams are both great in this, and I'm looking forward to seeing them in bigger projects down the road.  Kaluuya has such a great screen presence, and I'm happy that he finally nabbed a more high-profile leading man role.  "Get Out" only works as well as it does because it's so easy to sympathize with Chris and follow his thought processes as he puzzles his way through the situation.  Williams, by contrast, does an excellent job of keeping viewers guessing about where her loyalties lie.  Also, kudos to newcomer Lil Rey Howrey as Chris's TSA agent pal Rod, a secondary hero and the primary comic relief.  

This is a big win for Blumhouse Pictures, which was also responsible for M. Night Shyamalan's recent "Split."  They've spent the last several years producing smaller movies, mostly low-budget horror.  However, "Split" and "Get Out" have proven how versatile and interesting the genre can be.  I love that it's giving opportunities to filmmakers like Shyamlan and Peele to make the kinds of films that the larger studios are showing less and less interest in, and get them in front of audiences.  The most interesting films often come from the outer fringes of Hollywood, and I can only hope that this is a lasting trend.      

It's oddly inspiring to find that America's thorny racial issues can be so deftly mined for entertainment value like this.  And the audience that enjoys "Get Out" has been universal - whatever your ethnicity or background, the movie plays great.  I hope that other filmmakers take the right lesson from its success though.  It's not the fact that the lead is black or that it isn't afraid to talk about race.  It's about not being afraid of taking a chance on a different point of view.    


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