Many times each year, a movie is made that underscores some of the racial tensions in American society. Most of them are full of meta-stereotypes, heavy-handed and predictable, and ridden with cliches. Crash is one such film. Every now and then, though, a film of this sort also carries an uplifting message, something you can take home and think about at the end. I'm happy to report that Crash is also this sort of film. Ostensibly the story of race relations in L.A. as charted over the course of two days, it blends nine concurrent vignettes into a thread that is full of irony, serendipity, and poignant emotion.
If you don't like soapbox sermons and tugging of heartstrings, you probably won't like this movie, but if your outlook on interracial relations is that "we can all get along, but it requires just a little push, that critical decision from every man and woman and child, at every point of every day in their lives", then it will ring true to you.
The movie opens in the aftermath of a multi-car pileup on a local highway. A Latina woman and her African-American boyfriend are sitting in a car and the man is musing on the myriad little collisions that bring people into contact with one another every day. The reflection sounds so surrealistic to the woman that she remarks that her lover seems to have lost his sense of perspective. She then exits the car and immediately receives a verbal barrage from an Asian woman who rear-ended her car. The African-American, clearly a law enforcement official of some rank, exits the car and is told by two detectives that there is a "dead kid" lying by the side of the road, next to an abandoned car. As the official inspects the crime scene, the camera frames a look of shock cross his face.
The next scene is a flashback to the previous afternoon. For the rest of the film, we see the events of the day and a half that lead up to the discovery of the boy's body, and the aftermath. The stories told include those of:
- An Iranian immigrant who owns a shop and, fearful of vandals, buys a gun to defend it
- Two young black carjackers and their banter about ethics, culture and prejudices
- The district attorney and his wife, both white and highly privileged, after the two young men carjack his SUV
- An elderly Asian man involved in a human trafficking ring and a Slavic chop shop owner and fence
- A blatantly racist white cop and his disillusioned rookie partner
- A well-to-do couple consisting of a woman who is half-black and her husband, a film producer-director who capitulates to all the racism around him in order to avoid confontation
- The cop's father, who supposedly lost his business due to affirmative action and suffers from a urinary ailment, and the black HMO administrator who deals with the cop
- An honest, hard-working Latino locksmith who just moved to a new neighborhood with his wife and five-year old daughter after a stray bullet came through his daughter's window
- The black assistant DA, his Latina girlfriend, and the mother who raised him and his brother, a wanted criminal
The movie contains some reflections on interracial tensions, more on intraracial tensions, and is in general very reflective and thought-provoking. I found some of the situations unbelievably pat and serendipitous, but that is part of the movie's general theme: that the many little interactions we have with other human beings every day change their velocity in the space of ethics, race relations, understanding and tolerance. For better or for worse, we never stop influencing one another.
8 / 10
Failure to Launch (2006)
I went to see this one today with a friend and found it quite funny.
Matthew McConnaughey plays Tripp, a 32-year old man who lives at home with his parents. Ostensibly, this is a source of great consternation to his girlfriends, but as it turns out in the prologue of the film, he is a playboy, and doesn't reveal this situation, or much else about his life at all. That is, he doesn't tell them until they show some sign of desiring a serious commitment; then he brings them home to induce a breakup by letting them meet the parents in some awkward situation or another. Tripp's parents realize how emotionally stunted their son is becoming despite his suave demeanor. Meanwhile, two of Tripp's friends are also apparent "live-at-home losers", but much later, it comes to light that they are considerably more emotionally functional. At the end of Act 1, Tripp's long-suffering folks are jarred out of their complacency by the news that their neighbors have finally gotten their adult son to move out. Rather than actually finding a steady girlfriend, though, he's met a woman hired by his parents to lure him out of the nest - a "professional interventionist" named Paula, played by Sarah Jessica Parker. Tripp's parents decide to hire Paula to give their son her five-step treatment for social maturation - and thus begins the story proper.
The themes of this romantic comedy, equal parts Mister Deeds, Meet The Parents, and Pygmalion with a gender-role reversal, are "nature" and "sporting with hearts". There are many outdoor scenes featuring sailing, biking, hiking, swimming, surfing, and hunting, but the quarry in this story is the most elusive: love after heartbreak. As with other flicks like the type produced by the Farelly brothers (e.g., There's Something About Mary), there is a lot of exaggerated slapstick humor. You'll wonder sometimes how the principal characters ever manage to survive, much less the animals.
The characters are by turns sympathetic and dislikeable, but the cast work very well together, especially Kathy Bates as Tripp's mother with Terry Bradshaw as his dad. They bicker and banter and the play off the Cute KidTM as a foil, but their deadpan delivery is hilarious. If you've ever seen Friends and had a laugh at the Jack and Judy Geller (Ross and Monica's parents): this is a similar couple, only they get to say and do things that would be a little risque for an eight o'clock sitcom.
Tripp is by turns annoying in his Peter Pan complex and touchingly innocent. Most of the time, you'll be wincing and shaking your head at his antics, but occasionally, there is a lucid moment. I especially liked the sweet little scenes at the yacht club and the interplay with Kit and Ace.
Zooey Deschanel, who plays Paula's tough-talking-but-tender-hearted roommate, Kit, has received little love from critics since she reportedly floundered as Trillian in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but I thought her character was well done. Tripp's two best friends move the plot along well and are believable.
All in all, despite the awkwardness of some situations, I really liked this film. It actually made sense in a lot of ways, and it didn't have "nails on blackboard" painful moments such as the Exploding Gazebo of Poo in Meet The Parents and the genital-mangling in There's Something About Mary. Just remember that it's a completely different genre of film than even a family comedy such as City Slickers; don't take it too seriously, and it will return the favor.
7.5 / 10