Thursday, April 7, 2005

Guess Who

See, I have this theory: whenever there are more than two writers involved in a project, beware. They probably had to save it. There are six writers involved in Guess Who.


Guess Who is, of course, based on the classic civil rights era (1967) original, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, written by William Rose and directed by Stanley Kramer.. It won an Oscar for William Rose and one for Kathryn Hepburn as the mother. Guess Who inverts the races: instead of a white girl bringing home a black man to meet the parents, it’s an African American girl, Theresa Jones (Zoe Saldana) who brings home her white Wall Street broker boyfriend, Simon Green (Ashton Kutcher) to meet her parents, Percy (Bernie Mac) and Marilyn (Judith Scott).


Guess Who follows the awkward get-acquainted weekend that Theresa insists will make Simon a part of the family. They want to announce their engagement during her parent’s 25th wedding anniversary party. Simon, however, has just quit his job, but Percy, who has run a credit check on him and is satisfied that he can support his daughter, doesn’t know this. And he doesn't know, or even imagine, that Simon is white. 


The first obstacle the young couple faces is the shock and reaction of Theresa’s parents (especially her dad) when Simon is introduced. Then, to make sure that the couple does not sleep together, Percy tries to put him in a hotel. When that doesn’t work, he lets Simon sleep on the pull-out in the basement – and Percy joins him to keep guard.


I could go on and tell you more of the story line, but it’s not rocket science. Guess Who is, however, a nice film (which some industry people would consider a kiss-of-death compliment) with some humor and a predictable ending. Bernie Mac is funny, and Zoe Soldana is lovely and an actress with a career to watch. During the movie I kept thinking, “Ashton Kutcher? Isn’t he with Demi?” (Sometimes, there is such a thing as too much publicity.) Kutcher, however, acts like a mature twenty-something professional rather than a dufus. (Sometimes it is hard to break the mold.)


Guess Who, like its venerable precursor, addresses the issue of inter-racial marriage in the United States in very direct ways. It takes place among people who are financially well-off in Manhattan and suburban New Jersey. I thought the part where Simon tells “black jokes” especially telling because it is known that racism is perpetuated through cheap humor. Percy begs Simon to tell the jokes, laughs at a couple of them but almost runs Simon out of the house for the others.


Although Guess Who will never match the cultural impact of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, it treats universal themes such as relationships between men and women and marriage in positive ways.


I think there were too many writers on this project; it’s not a very smart film and it struggles to hang together; it also falls back on clich├ęs. However, it has heart and I think they did manage to save it. Enjoy.

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