DVD Review: Sarah Jessica Parker swaps 'Sex' for racism
It's amazing how many lauded stars keep appearing in the smallest features. Last week it was Michelle Williams in "Wendy and Lucy" and this week it's Sarah Jessica Parker. The former Miss Bradshaw a fortune thanks to Darren Star's "Sex and the Ci...
It's amazing how many lauded stars keep appearing in the smallest features.
Last week it was Michelle Williams in "Wendy and Lucy" and this week it's Sarah Jessica Parker.
The former Miss Bradshaw a fortune thanks to Darren Star's "Sex and the City" empire, so she's free to do as many independent pet projects as she sees fit -- at least that's what seems to be going on with "Spinning Into Butter," an under-the-radar film based on Rebecca Gilman's critically acclaimed play of the same name.
No matter how Parker got attached to this project, it definitely breaks from the actress' lighthearted fare of late ("Failure to Launch," "The Family Stone").
Parker plays Sarah Daniels, the curt dean of students at a small, predominately white New England university. Her ho-hum daily routines of dealing with annoying undergrads (at least that's how she acts at first) are interrupted when an African American student living on campus is threatened with racist notes addressed to one "Little Black Sambo" -- referring to the controversial book and subsequent banned cartoon depicting a dark-skinned Indian boy.
Conditions deteriorate quickly, and the peace and quiet of the mountain air is replaced by nosy reporters and camera crews, as word of the "incidents" hits the wire.
To remedy the situation, the college's powers that be -- all white -- hold a campus-wide "forum" about respect, being a big family and ... blah blah blah. It's the same old lines you hear whenever anything bad goes down at an institute of higher learning anywhere in this country; you're not buying it, and neither are the students in the film.
Upset, these enlightened 20-somethings decide that the next campus-wide event -- because more crazy s--- went down after the first one -- will be an opportune time to make their voices heard. So, during one of the authority figures' pompous speeches about nothing, a student of color speaks up, saying he and some of his friends thought the earlier meeting had been demeaning.
He makes a couple of good points, but then some hotheaded classmate of his goes on an unwarranted tirade against the faculty member (played to perfection by the great Beau Bridges), insinuating he's a racist and other equally distasteful things, which, in turn, causes one of the white students to exact revenge. His source of rage, it turns out, springs from the fact that he's an upperclassman relegated to living in the freshman dorms because a new housing development for minorities (which is barely occupied, by the way) has caused a shortage of living spaces. Meanwhile, another frustrated Caucasian whines, "I don't get any money for being white," referring to the school's practice of recruiting minorities with handsome scholarships.
It all sounds like a tired cliché -- and it probably is -- but, somewhere out there, there's probably a school or two dealing with situations that are equally as combustible and equally as important. And that's where Gilman's source material shines.
Problem is, outside of Parker and Bridges, the film version of "Spinning Into Butter" is bogged down by less-than-impressive performances.
I won't assassinate anyone's skills, but Mykelti Williamson's turn as Aaron Carmichael, an opportunistic black reporter who sees the unfortunate events as his mealticket, is the most disappointing. First he's falling for Parker's formerly racist dean of students, then he's slamming her because the events somehow don't effect her (even though she works tirelessly for the student in the middle of it all), then ... it's just all really uneven.
At first I wanted to blame the writing, but then I saw Gilman actually co-developed the screenplay with Doug Atchison. Or it could've been the editing, I thought, but that wouldn't explain how quickly Carmichael turned from sympathetic to simply pathetic. (You'd have to cut out a lot for that to even be plausible.)
Troubled, I turned to IMDB.com, where, lo and behold, it looks like "Spinning Into Butter" is director Mark Brokaw's first feature. That explains a lot.
So, as you can see, this film simply doesn't work. If I have to resort to online research to explain why one of its main characters is positively bipolar, and the whole big, important point of the project is effectively lost in the ether because of this, something went terribly wrong along the way.
Save yourself the 89 minutes and, if you're willing to take a stand for what's right, pick up the play and get one of your theater buddies to stage it. After seeing all the closet racists rear their ugly heads since Obama took office, you'd be doing the community a service to keep the conversations started in "Spinning Into Butter" going.
This is one instance where message trumps means.
NEWS TO USE
"Spinning Into Butter" will be released June 9 by Screen Media Films. Visit www.screenmediafilms.net/spinning to watch its trailer.