Lead Actors: Octavia Spencer, Gilian Jacobs
Producer: Robert Ogden
WARNING: THIS MOVIE MANAGED TO TALK ABOUT THE FRUSTRATIONS OF RACE IN AMERICA WITHOUT ANYONE BURNING A CAR, THROWING A BRICK THROUGH A WINDOW, THROWING A MOLTAV COCKTAIL, STEALING A TELEVISION OR LOOTING OF ANY KIND. SO IF YOU SEEK SENSATIONALIST, TRASHY JOURNALISM THAT MAKES IT LOOK AS IF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA IS ERUPTING INTO SALACIOUS, RATINGS HEAVY RACE RIOTS, READ NO FURTHER.
This movie was a delicate look at race relations in Los Angeles. At the center of it was an adorable little 3rd grade girl who was the product of a black father and white mother. The white mother died at child birth due to complications, and the black father struggles with drug addiction and is not present in the child's life.
This has left raising the child to the white grandparents. We meet Kevin Costner's Eliot Anderson in a waiting room. His face is vacant, and we soon learn that his wife, the girl's grandmother, has just died in a car accident.
Anderson's face tells us that this is life's toughest blow to date for him. He is listless and he turns to the warmth of his favorite drink (southern comfort whiskey from what I could tell). He wakes up in the fetal position in a beautiful bed. This is the first night he's spent in it without his wife.
Staring at him is the ethereal Eloise - a beautiful child. She is in her school uniform, ready to go, not knowing that her grandmother, who has raised her up to this point, is dead.
Now Anderson, a hard hitting lawyer by trade, must learn to raise his grandchild - the only remnant he has of his lost daughter and wife.
Then we learn about Eloise's spirited black heritage when Rowena Jeffers, her other grandmother, shows up at the wake. With her big eyes and determined spirit she approaches Eliot with the hard truth that he may not be able to handle raising a child. She suggests that Eloise should move to South Central Los Angeles with her and be raised by the African American side of her family.
While this would be a change of pace for Eloise, who has her own room with a fish aquarium, and enjoys a lavish lifestyle provided by Anderson's lawyering, we also learn that Rowena is a successful business woman and has a wonderful, supportive family who all love Rowena.
Anderson and Rowena don't dislike each other and they are able to have grown-up conversations. In one of my favorite scenes, Anderson asks Eloise's African tutor and drives him to South Central to talk to Rowena in person.
This is the first time the African tutor has seen this part of town.
It also shows that while Eliot is a drunk, he is loved and welcomed by Rowena's very large and loving African American family.
All of these factors lead to a custody case where a stately family judge played beautifully by Paula Newsome must decide on Eloise's fate.
Who Would Like it and Why
This is an all-star cast. Mpho Koaho plays a delightful example of African intellectual superiority as Duvon Araga, the tutor Eliot hires to teach Eloise and drive him places.
He knows nine languages and has a graduate school grasp of mathematics at age 19. He is an interesting character to throw in, and it demonstrates the drastic difference between Africans and African Americans.
Anthony Mackie, a favorite of mine, from Hurt Locker, the second Captain America, and Eight Mile, plays the high-powered, high achieving lawyer and family member of Rowena who tries the case.
This character shows the range of Mackie who played a thug in Eight Mile who gets out-rapped by Eminem. He also played the thug drug dealer who has his hook into Michael Douglas' daughter in traffic. Here Mackie is all business as driven lawyer who strikes fear in the hearts of Eliot's all white law team. He is articulate and purposeful in this character.
The casting of Jillian Estell was great because you can the power this beautiful mixed-race child has over everyone because of her cuteness and beauty.
Who Might not Like it and Why
The one problem I had with this script by Mike Binder is that Eloise's father, Reggie Davis, Played by Andre Holland, seemed to be a bit stereotypical.
He was a crack-addicted criminal who referred to himself as a "street (N word)" while courting Anderson's daughter. He impregnated her and moved on, another negative stereotype in the black community.
When he shows up in the movie, he looks awful and wants money so he can get high.
Everyone in the movie yells at him and slaps him and he messes up the simplest of things. I felt that one this was a very stereotypical character in a script filled with otherwise complex characters.
I felt that everyone was acting so harshly towards the addict that he had no choice but to turn towards the warm comfort of drugs again. This aspect of the movie could have been handled better.
Costner's overall growl as an aging, grumpy lawyer who loves his grand daughter was great. Every scene between him and Eloise was believable and touching.
Koaho stole the show comedically as the brilliant tutor who had written a paper on every possible subject. A genius.
There was a bit of a show down between Rowena and the family judge, two strong women. It seemed as if by the end of the hearing they had a mutual respect for one another.
Three Mike and Ikes