Short version: Bringing Down the House is the funniest new movie I’ve seen all year. My unfortunate companion found it necessary to poke at me at least twice during the movie because I was laughing loud enough to embarass her.
Theoretically, the basic culture clash premise of the movie might be considered formulaic, but it’s all in the execution. It’s the details that make it work.
Consider the racial issues with the old white women. The rich heiress client (Mrs. Arness) was just BEGGING for a Charlene (Queen Latifah) slap-down. One of the points where I got poked in the theater was the dinner scene where she wanted Charlene’s help in remembering the “Negro spiritual” their family maid used to sing in her youth most of a century ago, something about (singing) “Is massuh gonna sell us today?” Oh, the contortions Charlene/Latifah was going through to stop herself from throttling the woman just killed me.
Then there were the more subtle touches. The Betty White character (sister of Martin’s boss) really was a (cheerfully) hateful racist. She just didn’t like dark people, and would naturally call the cops if she saw one in the neighborhood “without a leaf blower in their hands.” Thinking back through it, by contrast actually Mrs. Arness was really not particularly racist. She was just all around grossly insensitive to everyone, but salvagable. Half the humor of her in the dinner scene was that she had no idea how goddam FURIOUS the black woman would have to be.
Steve Martin’s performance at the Down Low Club particularly merits repeat viewings. Really, the joke ends up being how credible his moves actually are. It was NOT a display of self-loathing, of the white guy making a self-debasing display of how uncool he is despite a desperate attempt. In fact, the actor who had the physical comedic skills to make the film All of Me has both the moves and the confidence to be quite competent at getting his freak on out on the dance floor.
Another nice twist was the ex-wife’s confidant Ashley. Sure, she’s an evil gossip and nasty gold digger, and they got good mileage out of that. What was really funny, though, was her fight with Charlene. OK, big sister from prison and the hood is inevitably going to whip that ass, but the white girl had a lot more fight in her than you might have guessed. It was enough to halfway redeem the character.
Of course, the secret weapon is Eugene Levy. He’s having a hell of a year, between this and co-creating A Mighty Wind. As a tax lawyer with an intense appreciation for the dark meat, he really takes the cake- and commits numerous felonies in the course of proving his love and devotion. His unselfconscious adoption of black lingo in adressing Charlene is just priceless.
Indeed, the best line of the movie is his sincere declaration of love sent through Martin, “Cool points are out the window. You’ve got me all twisted up in the game.” Despite how silly you might expect that to sound coming out of this homely middle-aged white man, it’s totally sincere and makes perfect sense.
Queen Latifah must get props for her part in carrying the film. She never made much impression on me as a musician or talk show host, but she did outstanding work here. She worked good with the more physical, slapstick elements, ie the fight with Ashley. She also did well with the more straightforward dramatic moments. She turned out more than competent to hold up her end opposite someone of Steve Martin’s high comedic caliber.Powered by Sidelines