Black or White

by Michael Cox

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday May 19, 2015

Black or White

The problem with "Black or White" is not that it uses clichés; it's that it tries to fit in nearly every cliché in the book.

The premise has possibilities: Elliott (Kevin Costner) and his wife are the primary caretakers of their granddaughter Eloise (Jillian Estell). This arrangement is never questioned until Elliott loses his wife to a car accident. Then, the young girl's other grandmother Rowena (Octavia Spencer) doubts Elliott's ability to raise the girl on his own, so she sues for custody. The best interests of the child are put into question as the custody battle becomes mired in issues of race.

This could be a charming story about an the ways that members of an extended family learn to appreciate each other, even though their circumstances are non-traditional. It could be about a little girl who discovers the many facets of her cultural identity. But instead of concentrating on something provocative and human, writer and director Mike Binder decides to make this movie a courtroom drama complete with inadmissible evidence, breathtaking surprise revelations in cross-examination and testimony delivered in dramatic monologues that would never be allowed on the witness stand.

As though that isn't enough, the movie culminates in a suspenseful physical altercation, filled with absurd coincidences and ending with a sudden, impulsive change of heart that redeems the antagonist.

The best part of this film is the humor, which happens only when the movie is not trying to be funny.

The best part of this film is the humor, which happens only when the movie is not trying to be funny. Spencer (who won an Oscar for her supporting role in "The Help") is hilarious in her most natural moments, those few times when she is not asked to play a ridiculous stereotype. And even though the role of Duvan Araga, a math tutor Elliot hires for his granddaughter, has been written as a silly stock character, Mpho Koaho's performance stands in contrast to the writing. We laugh all the harder because he foils the maudlin absurdity of the script.

Special feature include a couple of promotional featurettes (which are essentially trailers with some actor interviews in them) and a substantive, 20-minute long making-of documentary "Shades of Grey: The Making of 'Black or White.'"

"Black or White"

Blu-ray

Rated PG-13 / 121 min.

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