Octavia Spencer and Kevin Costner
I’m sure you’re expecting an excoriating review of what looks to be a self-righteous, inspirational message movie. Well, Black or White is that dreadful beast, but it rises to almost Douglas Sirk-ian levels of melodrama in its final act. Unfortunately for Black or White, Sirk has been dead since January 1987, and writer-director Mike Binder (a hideous and strange filmography featuring Blankman, a lesser HBO series “The Mind of the Married Man” and 2007’s Reign Over Me, aka a serious Adam Sandler movie) is not near as stylish.
Despite the presence of dual Academy Award winners Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer, Black or White cannot overcome its made-for-TV-level tale. Terence Blanchard’s tremendously awful, jazzy ‘70s score does very little to help.
After the unexpected death of his wife (played by Zero Dark Thirty’s Jennifer Ehle in flashbacks), Elliot Anderson (K-Cost) is left to raise his mixed-race granddaughter, Eloise (the immensely charming Jillian Estell). Enter Grandma We-We (Spencer), Eloise’s paternal grandmother, who beseeches Elliot to allow Eloise to grow up with her and her family in South Central. Prepare for a legal battle where Anthony Mackie crunches wits with Bill Burr? Also, Gillian Jacobs (Britta from the very funny “Community”) shows up to be pretty. Costner gets to spend most of the movie irascible and drunk, which is significantly less fun when custody of a cute third grader is on the line, rather than a minor league baseball or PGA tour win. Still, he’s Costner, whose strange brand of lazy-star magnetism retains its pull.
As one would imagine, old white guy Binder writes Costner’s wealthy old white guy as more appealing than anyone else; Spencer being Spencer saves Rowena from pure stereotype. I cannot with good conscience recommend Black or White, but as with many social melodramas, it sporadically tugs at the right emotional heartstrings.