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I Now Pronounce You Black and White

2010-05-14 09:06
 
I Now Pronounce You Black and White

What it's about:

Simon Dawson (Tyrel Meyer), a white, Jewish South African who has just returned home from working in the UK, meets Xhosa Jackie Msolisi (Astara Mwakalumbwa) and it's love at first sight. When the two decide to get married, their respective families butt heads as their conservative views on interracial relationships and the state of the nation threaten to derail wedding plans.

What we thought:

Believe me, I did not set out to dislike this film, even when a contrived title like I Now Pronounce You Black and White sets off a multitude of red warning lights. It's no fun at all to watch a South African production fail – creatively or commercially – but it's definitely worse to forgive a poor film its failings because it's homegrown.

Where to start? There's just so much going wrong here, and the major problems do not, incidentally, lie with the premise. Anyone who is shocked or annoyed by the fact that love across the 'racial lines' is still an issue worth addressing in a movie (it's just so pre-1994, you might think) has a pretty blighted view of what really happens when a mixed race couple walk down a crowded street in just about any major city in South Africa. Hands up: who tries extra hard not to do a double take? The recent release of the The Race-ist should give you some indication of where the local industry's mindset is at.

So while the material and ripe context is there, buzzing with potential, the sad fact is that British-born, SA-resident writer-director Oliver Rodger seems to have lost sight of what he actually wanted to achieve with his film: to take a wryly amusing look at what South Africans really think of one another once the politically correct filters have been removed. It's mildly amusing for about the first 10 minutes of the movie, when Simon's uptight Jewish mother can only bring herself to refer to her prospective daughter-in-law as "that girl" and his Afrikaner father (a misused Ian Roberts) can barely contain his anger at his son's betrayal by unleashing wave after wave of vitriol at their stereotypically lazy black housekeeper. "You can take the maid out of Gugulethu…" opines Mrs Dawson, a bit too convincingly.

In the townships, Jackie is also having a hard time convincing her parents to accept her plans. Her mother is loud and obnoxious and exceptionally Christian, her father is an overweight buffoon who only cares about his next meal and the welfare of his beloved tjorrie. If these characters do not at first appear to be distasteful caricatures, then avert your eyes and cover your ears as the two sets of parents mercilessly attack each other over their first dinner meeting, and later at the wedding itself. This is a movie that switches gears from derisive observational comedy to outright malice in no time at all. I'm all for picking on our unique cultural idiosyncrasies to get us to laugh at ourselves, heaven knows it's the foundation upon which this country's comedy legacy has been built, but something has gone terribly wrong when the insults become personal and a black woman's personal hygiene, or rather the supposed lack thereof, is something to mock. This isn't entertainment. This is demeaning.

But even before that low arrives, Rodgers gets some very elementary things wrong. There's no motivation for us to cheer Simon and Jackie along their rocky walk down the aisle. We only get to see their courtship progress over the short credit sequence, so any chemistry they're meant to have does not even factor into it. As a couple, they're without charm or passion. As individuals, they're an utter bore. But no-one is as white bread dull as David, Simon's best man from the UK. He's set up as the outsider, uninitiated in the bigoted ways of South Africans, and with whom lies the burden of making everyone see eye to eye – or at least cutting through the crap and getting our couple hitched. What he does seem to do with some degree of success is walk and talk. Everything else is an exercise in seeing how many times you will mouth "WTF?!" at the screen. The movie is ostensibly set in Cape Town, but there is not a single shot of flora or fauna, or even something resembling a landmark, to establish this. The wise-cracking coloured characters are probably there to fill that void.

It's also disappointing how thoroughly unsexy this movie is. The abundance of hot, young people caught in a mad situation sounds like the perfect playground for all kinds of pent-up frustration, sexual and otherwise, to play itself out in a few wacky set pieces, even suggestively. Screw it, let's do it right? Wrong. Jackie tells David that his primary job as best man, as per tradition, is to get it on with her sexy bridesmaid – but the suggestion is a cruel one. David has all the sexual impulse of Mr. Bean eating a slice of toast.

The only bits that could conceivably be viewed as funny is the silly posturing between the Dawson's rabbi and the Msolisi's pastor. And Nik Rabinowitz gets a humorous cameo as a white sangoma-in-training who's just a 'kiff' Cape Town surfer oke when he clocks out at the end of the day. More off-the-cuff moments like this could have saved I Now Pronounce You Black and White. Unfortunately, the movie serves as a cautionary tale for other up-and-coming filmmakers, and while it doesn't have the clout to re-ignite any sort of racial hostility, it's sure to steer the debate in the wrong direction. For a supposed comedy, it's just far too cynical.

Comedy is a more powerful tool than this movie can even comprehend. I sincerely hope some lessons will be learned from this experience.


The political becomes personal in this woefully misguided SA comedy that gets just about every film-making rule wrong.

Zola 2010/05/14 8:58 AM
I did not watch the move yet, however I saw the trail on etv. It seemed funny to me when the bride to be tell her parents the groom to be has proposed. The reaction of the mother caught my eye and thus I have decided to go and watch the movie. However your opinion on this blog changes some of my view, firstly I asked myself why would he (writer)potray a black and white couple instead of coulered and white as he relationship is based on that. I wished the media can use the space they got to open the people`s minds on racial issues to promote tollerance not the other way round. We lack that in our country.
Melanie 2010/05/14 9:07 AM
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I watched it and thought it was funny. I watch movies for entertainment and there is entertainment in this movie. I recognised the footage shown as Cape Town.
tholakele 2010/05/14 10:45 AM
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i loved every minute of the this movie. it was funny and very entertaining. im not generaly a big SA movie supporter but something drew me to this movie and i have no regrets. its a very light hearted movie
LAT 2010/05/14 11:02 AM
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This movie is certainly better than A LOT of SA movies I've seen. It is funny, comical and keeps you interested. Loved it!
Zola (the other one) :) 2010/05/14 11:10 AM
I went to watch the premium, it's good, but the black mom and dad acted like they were on stage. they were too loud and overdid it a bit. Over all thou, it's pretty funny...
Zola (the other one) :) 2010/05/14 11:10 AM
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I went to watch the premium, it's good, but the black mom and dad acted like they were on stage. they were too loud and overdid it a bit. Over all thou, it's pretty funny...
Carla 2010/05/14 11:24 AM
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This movie is fantastic, I have seen it. It tackles many racial issues that not many would have the courage to tackle, let alone make a film about. I take my hat off to the director, being a brit and as he put it and "an adopted South African", also the director is trying to put South Africa on the map and he is not even South African. Its a comedy and brilliant, so lets not gun down what he is trying to do. I saw it at the premier where there were many renowned actors and even had the opportunity of chatting to them after and they loved it. So a big thumbs up for this one.
Marco 2010/05/14 12:01 PM
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Wickedly funny, good show for a non South African director!! Refreshing and extremely entertaining to see his 'grasp' on an unrelenting, ever present South African Taboo. Can't wait for the next production. Well done! P.s Going out on a limb here...note to Director: S.A 'Snatch' style gangster flick would be awesome!! (Local based answer to Guy Richie, now there's an idea :-)
Charlie :-) 2010/05/14 12:19 PM
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I thought the movie was great, well done to OL and Carla :-)
Adrienne 2010/05/14 12:35 PM
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I thoroughly enjoyed this film. It's witty, funny and has the feel-good factor. It deals with race and religion in a very refreshing way and I hope to see a lot more from this promising young director who I note not only directed but wrote and produced the film. An amazing achievement and I am keen to see it again as I found the dialogue very funny but cannot remember some of the lines as I laughed so much I couldn't take it all in. It has everything a romantic comedy hopes to achieve and so much more.
Shane 2010/05/14 12:38 PM
I haven't seen the movie, but the trailer looked interesting. As I was reading the review I decided to not see it, then I read the comments and now I want to see it. That's what happens when I break my own rules - never read reviews, rather get the opinions of the REAL people. tsk tsk
Ronel 2010/05/14 12:58 PM
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A feel good movie. Still chuckling days after the movie about some scenes. A must see!!!
Pumkin 2010/05/14 1:00 PM
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I loved the movie, atleast it brought the fund back , between blacks and whites after this whole thing of ET and Julius we forgot that we have a beautiful place and we are a rainbow nation. I was seating next to a white couple at 1st it was tense and in the middle of the movie we started laughing our lungs out , looking at each other, saying No they did not say that. Beautiful.
Vic 2010/05/14 1:30 PM
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This movie is absolutely HILARIOUS! And not just that - it really delves into race and religion in SA. A must see. I can't believe the guy wrote, directed AND produced the whole thing - and he's so YOUNG. Can't wait to see what else he's got up his sleeve...
Siviwe 2010/05/14 1:47 PM
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Shim shame, what ever your name is - Please quit writing movie reviews you suck. Serious, you do. I think you are trying too much to impress. Where ever it is you leave (your little box), get out more and smell the coffee, racial divisions are still persisting. Having said that, I think you need to seriously get … oh, get a sense of humour while at it.
Claudette 2010/05/14 2:00 PM
I loved this movie - this is still a issue for most South Africans and sooooooo not pre 1994. I thought it was clever and made me look at how we as South Africans still can laugh as these "situations". Not everyone is over pre 1994 so why not make fun of our differences. Afrikaans, Jewish, Xhosa etc can in the end all have a good time and laught at ourselves! :)
Paul 2010/05/14 2:16 PM
This reminds me of Leon Schuster's "Mr Bones" - it doesn't contain an ounce of intellect and is thus perfectly suitable for almost all South Africans.
Joanne 2010/05/14 2:26 PM
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WTF?????? I saw the preview screening last night. Could not stop laughing the whole way through. It was so funny. There was not one person, black, white, idian or coloured in the theatre that did not laugh at one stage or another. If i had to choose between watching Clash of the Titans again or this movie it would be this movie without a doubt... You should really not take yourself too seriously
Julez 2010/05/14 3:07 PM
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Had the privilege of catching the premier. I don't think they'll be winning any awards just yet. But if its escapist entertainment you're after, its right on the money. Refreshing that the cast was predominantly 'unknown' and Nik (as the white sangoma) was hilarious! Had no expectations so was NOT dissapointed.
Diane 2010/05/14 3:16 PM
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I watched the movie with a totally open mind and really enjoyed it. We all know people just like all the characters and I think he gets the different race groups down to a T. Racial intolerance is still very much a feature of everyday life in Soth Africa and I think if we can laugh at ourselves and see the humour in certain situations we are taking a step in the right direction. Also nice to support some local talent - we can only improve with time
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