by Malcolm Woodard
April 11, 2013 4:03 PM 2 Comments
And the moral of the story is - life is short, so don't take it too seriously. I think.
It's labeled as a "dark comedy," but the film has a hell of a lot more comedy than there is anything I'd describe as dark.
What's worse is that the comedy is sometimes unintentional.
Matthew Broderick (forever to be known as Ferris Bueller) plays Ben - a man whose life's path is riddled with one tribulation after another: he's a divorced, failed children's folk singer; he sees his pre-pubescent daughter only on weekends, and is gradually becoming estranged from her; he loses his corporate job, forcing him to become a pizza delivery driver to make ends meet. Life doesn't paint a rosy picture for Ben.
However, Ben doesn't seem to realize how much of his burden is self-inflicted.
Succinctly put, Ben is what I'd call manic depressive, even though those words are never uttered in the film. His undiagnosed state is the fulcrum for much of his inability to relieve himself of all that impedes his growth. And, as is often the case in movies with this theme, it takes the wondrous powers of a woman to give him the motivation necessary for redemption.
Luckily for Ben, his Mother Theresa comes in the form of a young, delicious, chocolaty treat, from the dark continent, played by Sanaa Lathan, in a role that I'm sure she would love to forget.
Khadi (Lathan) is the sister of Ben's Senegalese roommate, Ibou (played by Michael K Williams), a diabetic. Ben and Ibou spend their time together playing chess, as Ibou (Williams doing his best generic "African" accent) offers up nuggets of that mystical Senegalese wisdom, on Ben's life challenges.
They're close - like brothers; and so when Ibou suddenly goes into a diabetic coma, he becomes Ben's priority. But not for too long, because when Khadi flies in all the way from Dakar to help care for her brother, Ben's other head becomes a bit of a distraction.
Naturally, Khadi takes Ibou's place in the apartment he and Ben share, since he's in the hospital; and it's a conveniently small apartment - a studio I believe, separated into two halves, with just a pair of curtains. Given that set-up, even Stevie Wonder could see where it all would eventually lead.
I laughed almost every time Williams and Lathan spoke; you don't have to be a linguist or a dialectologist to hear the inconsistencies in their pronunciations. Even they didn't seem especially comfortable in their respective roles. There's was a kind of indifference, you could say, about their performances, which made certain sequences painful to watch. I actually felt somewhat embarrassed for them in those instances.
Matthew Broderick does his best to give the film the weight it wants to believe it has, but very little of it is actually earned. He's a self-righteous, loathsome, anti-social guy, yet, for reasons that were never really justified, Khadi falls in love with him, not-too long after she moves in. She cooks for him (supposedly traditional Senegalese dishes) - a gesture he doesn't immediately appreciate; she even dances for him - some hip twirling, waist shaking routine that we're to believe is commonplace "back home;" and eventually, she does the horizontal boogie with him - a few times.
It's obvious why he would like her, given all of the above; but, there's really very little reason why she would like him - other than the fact that he and her brother are close. But the guy is an asshole to just about everyone else - including her, initially.
Ben does give her money, after she runs out of funds, telling her that it was her brother's savings. However, in one of those really unimaginative-type scenes, she happens upon a piece of paper that just happened to fall out of his pockets or something, onto the floor; she picks it up and sees that it's a bank receipt with his name on it, showing a withdrawal amount that exactly matches the cash he gave her - $2,000. And, of course, she's moved by the discovery, but doesn't tell him that she knows where the money really came from. And, it's after that moment that she really opens up to him, if you catch my drift; but I certainly hope that the filmmaker isn't essentially suggesting that Khadi's motivation for embracing Ben as fully as she does, is all thanks to his largesse.
She may as well have been a prostitute then, if that's the case.
There's a simplicity to a story that seems to think its so much more, which I find somewhat repulsive; It's just lazy filmmaking overall.
There was absolutely no reason why Sanaa Lathan and Michael K Williams had to play Senegalese; None whatsoever. They may as well have been Jack and Jill from up the hill. And, in fact, if they were indeed Jack and Jill, I think the film would have been much more authentic, and likely a better film than what I saw. No attempts at foreign accents; no tribal dances. Even further, I'd say that they very well could have been white.
If there was anything about it that kept me watching, it was seeing Sanaa Lathan, whether it was in a short jean skirt, showing off some thigh, or in a body-hugging wrap-around, shaking somewhat seductively at the hips. Sue me!
Of course, in the end, Ben learns some valuable lessons about himself and about life, making the necessary adjustments to his person, and soon starts living again! All is well. Yay. The end!