Black or White: Costner Stars in On-the-Nose Family Drama
On the nose is a phrase we’ve come to often use, but there’s no other way to really describe about Mike Binder latest-feature. Written and directed by the stand-up-comedian-turned-filmmaker himself, or White has good intentions and the end-result is relatively satisfactory. However, it’s vanilla approach to the subject of family and race feels a little too conventional and offers no real insight on what is a complex subject,
Black or White is based on a true story and it follows the life of one Elliot Anderson (Costner); a successful attorney who has just learned that his wife (Ehle) has been killed in an accident. Turning to the bottle for some comfort, Elliot is grief- stricken and terrified as he has now been left to take care of their granddaughter, Eloise (Estell), all by himself.
Struggling to keep up with the everyday routine, Elliott relies on the help from his colleague, Rick (Burr), and Eloise’s new math tutor, Duvan (Koaho) to keep things on an even keel. However, things get complicated when Eloise’s other grandmother, Rowena (Spencer) – a.k.a Grandma Wee Wee – enters the picture, demanding that Elliott includes her and her recently-rehabilitated son, Reggie (Holland) – Eloise’s estranged father – into his granddaughter’s life.
As trivial as its title may sound, Black or White is actually a well-intended movie and a heartfelt story that – despite it Hallmark-like aesthetics – attempts to undo and unravel the subject of racism and prejudice through a story of love, loss, grief and familial hardships. Not everything works for Binder’s somewhat clumsy and overblown script; there’s a sense of stereotyping throughout and a handful of unrealised subplots and uncharted side-characters come to distract from the overriding arc. However, what does work is the fact that the story never asks you to choose sides and Eloise’s fate – profoundly debated in somewhat of a predictable and yet moving courtroom-filled third act – is lovingly and bravely fought for by both sides.
Another thing that works is the pairing of Costner – an actor who seems to be getting better with age – and the always-reliable Octavia Spencer. The two make a dynamic pair and both turn in strong performances; Costner’s clichéd interpretation of an alcoholic could have been a little more tempered, but he only gets stronger through the minutes, while the young Estell is more than just a pretty little face.
However, despite its positive turns, Mike Binder’s Black or White suffers from one too many truisms through a subject that could have produced much more.