Another Failed Race Comedyby Roger Young / 13.05.2010
The fact that Oliver Rodger has written, directed, produced and found distribution for his first feature film, I Now Pronounce You Black & White, his first attempt at directing, is a massive feat. Unfortunately the end result is strangely similar to watching Suburban Bliss reruns on late night SABC2 in 1997. Sometimes just showing up is not enough.
The plot is almost absurdly simple, a young white Jewish boy wants to marry a young black girl, both sets of parents object and attempt to keep them apart. Comedy ensues. Except it doesn’t. The film is flatly staged, Rodger never explores the three-dimensional space of a set, it’s almost as if his actors are playing to an audience on the other side of a puppet theater. Not that the actors are blameless. Many of them, Kwesi Kobus, Bo Peterson and Ian Roberts, are experienced enough to know that no matter the production, hamming it up like that is never going to look good. As a result scenes progress with no flow, bumping up against objects and sharp stereotypical outbursts. Not that there is anything wrong with using stereotypes in comedy, it’s just that these are flat stereotypes, stereotypical stereotypes, with no surprises and ultimately no journeys to take us on.
The central message seems to be: young people are, to the exasperation of old people (who are racists), falling in love regardless of skin colour. It’s this simplicity that undermines the film. I Now Pronounce You is not an offensively bad film, it’s just a very basic film on every level, from script through performance and production to editing. It’s a film of filled with wasted opportunities. It is an attempt at a comedy of race that does nothing but reinforce stereotypes without adding anything to the oeuvre. But it does not mean that Rodgers is a bad director, merely a new director who was obviously too keen to make a film and moved too fast through the process.
Two of the minor performances underscore Rodgers over-enthusiasm. Charles Tertiens and Nik Rabinowitz both have relatively minor roles, their performances show promise. But then the characters do not develop, they continue repeating the same joke in different forms and any charm the performances might have had is eroded. These are the kinds of things a director learns to deal with through experience, and although the lack of experience (like ignorance of the law) is no excuse, one hopes that someone with the raw drive to be able to put a film together, completely independently, does not stop trying to gain that experience. The problem, of course, is that there may simply be no further way for him to gain experience after making a film so simplistic that it practically does not exist.