Tag Archives: dysfunctional families

TIFF18: White Boy Rick

The trailers for White Boy Rick deceived me. I expected a frenetic, over-the-top throwback full of 80s excess, rollerskating, and outlandish behaviour as fifteen year old Ricky (Richie Merritt) breaks into the Detroit crime scene in 1984, assisted by his gunrunning dad (played by the madcap Matthew McConaughey). I expected a dark comedy. I hoped for Scarface, the teenage years, with lots of action and quotable dialogue. I would have settled for half-assed ripoff of Boogie Nights, with a naive rising star breaking into a criminal enterprise.

But instead, I got a melancholy family drama about a group of deadbeats with whom I had no interest in spending any time at all. Not as friends, not as neighbours, and certainly not as the subjects of a two hour feature. Ricky’s story is not a story that deserves to be told on screen, and that’s fatal. I never could bring myself to care about him or his family, not even a little bit. That is in no way the fault of Merritt or McConaughey. It is also not an issue arising from the screenplay or the direction. It’s more basic than that: there was no saving these characters. They were simply irredeemable.whiteboyrick_01

It’s unfortunate because there is a story underlying White Boy Rick that does deserve our attention: the fact that the 80s “War on Drugs” was primarily a scheme to keep America’s prisons stocked with young black men. And, as a bonus in many states, strip them of their right to vote once convicted of a felony, which many might even plead to if they were locked up and mistreated for long enough prior to trial.

That is a story that has been much better told by Ava DuVernay’s 13th (which is definitely worth your time). That is also a story that should probably not be told from a white family’s perspective, as doing so suggests that mandatorylife sentences without the possibility of parole for crack dealers are only a problem when white people start getting locked away too.

Yet, here we are. Ricky’s life is onscreen for you to shake your head at, if you so choose. But you have much better options available to you in the coming weeks (such as The Predator and Life Itself, to name two I saw this past weekend at TIFF). Then again, if you are about bad choices, like choosing White Boy Rick over either of those, then maybe you will find the movie more enjoyable due to having something in common with little Ricky and his family, who never met a bad choice they didn’t like. Yes, I just went there, but it’s for your own good.

SXSW: You Can Choose Your Family

I chose this movie because: Jim Gaffigan. God I love him. He’s a stand-up comic whose act for many years concentrated on his 5-kid, 7-person family living in a cramped 2-bedroom apartment in New York City. He’s a family man and a good Catholic whose only sin is gluttony. I shouldn’t like him or relate to him, but he’s a genuinely funny guy, and I can never get enough (he’s got some comedy specials on Netflix and a couple of books at your local library and commercials for mini vans and KFC). So when I heard he was in a movie screening at SXSW, I was on board, no questions asked.

In You Can Choose Your Family, he plays Frank, a father and husband who is often absent, travelling on business. Once high school sweethearts, his wife (Anna Gunn) feels like she hardly knows him anymore, and his son Philip (Logan Miller) feels like his father MV5BMTU3NzI1NTc2N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNzQ1MTc3NDM@._V1_has never known him. Philip and his father are always clashing, and Philip can’t wait to get far, far away from his family when he goes to NYU next year. But for now he’s trapped in his father’s house, living by the rules that Frank isn’t even there to enforce. So when Frank flies to Japan on business, Philip thinks it’s the perfect opportunity to go blow off some spring break steam. But what he finds there is not what he bargained for: it’s his dad…and his dad’s second family. Oh, fudge.

So of course Philip blackmails him for all he’s worth. But now that there’s a crack in the secret…well, cracks always get bigger, don’t they? Director Miranda Bailey bills this as a comedy, and the Jim Gaffigan casting would seem to back that up, but this is a pretty unfunny situation that I suppose we’d better laugh at, because the other option is unthinkable. Bailey admits that she’s got some daddy issues to work through, and really, who doesn’t, but laughing at them kept me squirming, and huffing, and burying my head in my hands. If you really stop and think about how you’d feel – as either the child or the spouse – having your relationship and in fact your entire life be usurped by replacements – well, that’s a horrible feeling. And horrible feelings can only exist for so long on film before we’re obligated to break them up with some laughs. Is this a comedy? I wouldn’t go that far. But it was an interesting, sometimes funny, film that will make you appreciate the family you do have, whatever that is.

 

 

Note: this film has since been renamed Being Frank.