Being an avid fan of Mike Binder’s “The Upside of Anger,” I was expecting a lot from his latest film “Black or White.” For starters, he paired up with Kevin Costner again, the man (along with Joan Allen) who made “The Upside of Anger” so good. However, this time around, Binder has left me feeling so-so, even with the talented Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer in this film.
Elliott Anderson (Costner) recently lost his wife in accident and now must take care of his grand-daughter Eloise (played by Jillian Estell) alone since her mother died from complications during the birth. Eloise is a mixed race child, and her dad, Reggie (played by André Holland) is still alive, but he was involved in drugs. However, now that Elliott lost his wife, Eloise’s father’s mother, Rowena (Spencer), believes Eloise will need a female figure in her life. Plus, Reggie has returned to Rowena’s life, claiming he has cleaned up.
Elliott doesn’t want anything to do with Rowena’s thoughts. He wants Eloise to live with him, and he tells Rowena that they can come over a pool party anytime. Yet, Rowena is not having it, and she pushes a trial to gain custody of Eloise. This raises the question of race, when it comes to the fight between Rowena and Elliott. For starters, Rowena thinks Elliott has always been racist and prefers that Eloise live a privileged life with white people. But Elliott swears it’s only because he does not want Reggie back her Eloise’s life because of the choices he made.
To make things more interesting, Elliott has a drinking problem and has a hard time staying sober around Eloise. So he hires a tudor to not only help with her studies, but to drive him and Eloise around as well. Then, Reggie shows up at Elliott’s office asking for money to repay a debt. Reggie swears if he hands over the money, he will be out of Eloise’s life for good. So, Elliott gives in, and so on and so forth. The points and questionable things towards race is nothing new here, and that is where Binder could have done better with.
Now, besides the subject of race in this film, I find it interesting that Binder also needs to make a character with a drinking problem. This role was like Kevin Costner flipped his character from “The Upside of Anger” into something more dramatic and put on a suit. It’s nothing new, which makes it very disappointing for the audience and Costner.
Then, there is the lovely Octavia Spencer, who turns out to be the best force in the film. She is a loving mother and grandmother who has made a success out of her garage. Spencer does her best to work with the mediocre screenplay. If it wasn’t for her, I believe I would have disliked this film more.
Mike Bender missed the chance to really “wow” us with “Black or White.” Instead he went for a mediocre screenplay and an ill-fitting, heavy trumpet, jazz score, reminiscent of the early 90s. I don’t get it. Thankfully, Octavia Spencer makes the film watchable to degree. Rated PG-13.