24 September 2008

I'm Through With White Girls: The Inevitable Undoing of Jay Brooks

I HATE rom-coms. You know this. Even when I kind of like them, I hate them. I hate the way they oversimplify human interactions and make it seem like all anybody needs is love to be happily every after, and especially how they tend to feature self-centered whiners who I'm supposed to like and cheer for. So I really wasn't expecting to like I'm Through With White Girls. But the title, which apparently made some people uncomfortable (give me a break), appealed to me. I first heard about the movie via a review on okayplayer that piqued my curiosity. And you know what? I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. It's one of the smartest romantic comedies I've ever seen. In fact, it might be the ideal romantic comedy.

I mean, if you think about it, romantic comedies are basically all the same - boy meets girl, they overcome some obstacles, they end up happily ever after. The art of the romcom is finding a way to spice up the stock plot while keeping the movie light-hearted and not making anyone think too hard. Often, this is done by making the obstacles really bizarre - think 50 First Dates - or by making the characters really odd - think Punch Drunk Love, though I guess that's not really upbeat enough to count as a romcom. Whatever. Find your own example. Or, you can make it a bit more profound by using it as an opportunity to reflect on some aspect of society, or love - When Harry Met Sally might - MIGHT - qualify in this category (and no, I don't like that movie either). I'm Through With White Girls takes this third path, and as it's traveling the well-worn road of the romance plot, takes the time to think about race and stereotypes.

So first off, it's quite clever and often very funny. Sure, at times the subversion of stereotypes is a little over the top - one scene in particular lines up a whole array of caricatures only to give them the surprising twist; the biker who turns out to be gay, the frat boy who turns out to be dating a very elegant looking black woman, etc. So it occasionally oversimplifies, but hey, so do all romcoms, and this one has its heart in the right place. Actually, the only surprise was that there was really no poking fun at white girls, which I was actually kinda looking forward to. The most interesting inquiry into racial stereotypes is the investigation of the clash between two black families, one upper and one middle, who are about to be united by marriage. Both sides are caricatures, sure, but it's nonetheless a good-natured treatment of both sides, full of lovable foibles. Race satire is tricky, at least for me, because if it's too bitter, it's not really funny at all and it just makes me angry and depressed (Black People Love Us) and if it's too snide, it's more obnoxious than amusing (Stuff White People Like, which at first I found funny, then it got REALLY tired). I'm Through With White Girls, at least by my standards, struck the perfect balance - amusing but thoughtful. It never got preachy, nor did it ever get overly feel-good.

Aside from the two families, there's also some consideration of interracial dating, though not nearly so much as you'd think, given the title. There's one particularly interesting moment, actually, when the main character, Jay, calls his girlfriend out for saying he looks like Gary Coleman. It's the standard cringe-inducing line, but the exchange between them is interesting: (approximate quote) "You can't tell black people they look like famous black people. We're sensitive about that." "I didn't tell black people. I told you. A guy I'd been fucking for 5 months. Besides, it was a joke!" It's a subtle way of pointing out the potential minefields in interracial relationships - or any relationships that cross lines, for that matter. Shit, maybe it's just a danger in any relationship, now that I think of it, it just takes a more readily identifiable form when it's crossing race, ethnic, or class lines. You're bound to offend the hell out of your partner at some point, it's just a question of whether they can refer to an overarching principle when they call you a thoughtless asshole.

The social commentary aside, I actually really appreciated the romance in the movie too, which was probably the biggest surprise of all. It's strikingly genuine. Both characters are likeable but flawed - they seem like real people. Actually, the same can be said of all the characters in the movie - they're extremely realistic. Even in appearance. Apparently some people complained about the white girls in the movie not being hot enough, but I guess they didn't notice that most people in the movie are pretty average looking, aside from the two leads, who are attractive but not preposterously so. They look like normal attractive people. It's refreshing. Anyways, yeah, so what's also nice is the way their relationship (and its problems) is portrayed. Again, highly believable, so much so that it almost seems mundane. So although you find both characters a little annoying, you kinda like 'em anyways, and you do find yourself hoping they can get their shit together and make it work. It's nice. I mean, I wasn't moved to tears or elation, but we all know I have a heart of ice so really, when it comes to this genre, placid, vague interest is about the best you're gonna get from me anyhow.

Let me be clear - it IS a rom-com. It's not an epic, moving experience. Rom-coms are by definition light fare, so it's hard to get really worked up about them. But it's a decidedly pleasant film, and far more intelligent than pretty much all the mainstream garbage that gets put out these days.

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