Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Black Coffee (live action movie), via Netflix

Black Coffee is a romantic comedy with some Christian romance elements that, strangely, go nowhere. Netflix thought I would like it. Unfortunately, Netflix was wrong.

Robert's girlfriend, Mita, breaks up with him the same day he's laid off from the company his dad founded. While looking up the legality of his layoff in a bookstore (did the local library suck that badly?), Robert catches a glimpse of a beautiful woman named Morgan. Their paths cross again when he delivers a bag of coffee to her for a friend.

Morgan is an attorney who is in the process of setting up her own firm. Despite having a few misgivings, she hires Robert to paint her new offices, and the two of them chat and flirt a bit. The only problem: Morgan has a rocky off-and-on relationship with her ex-husband, Hill, who might refuse to ever give back the more than two million dollars worth of property she foolishly let him have.

Of all the characters, Morgan was the most believable, at least until the script failed her. She had a sense of humor, and her reaction to Robert's first attempts to hit on her would likely ring true to any woman who has ever had some random guy make inappropriate comments while she's just trying to get through the day.

That first conversation between Robert and Morgan was so awkward and slightly creepy (on Robert's part) that I wondered how Mark Harris, the director/writer, would manage to salvage things. The answer: he didn't. He just plowed right on through to the next romantic comedy plot point. Morgan and Robert had to meet again, so Morgan inexplicably hired Robert to do a job that meant she would sometimes be in the building alone with him. Then, even though she supposedly wanted to mend things between herself and her ex-husband, she decided to go on a date with Robert. None of it made any sense.

Then I learned that she'd basically given her husband all the property she'd ever owned. She was supposedly a reasonably intelligent lawyer, and this was more than two million dollars worth of property. Was I supposed to believe she never hired someone to look everything over and tell her she was making a terrible decision?

The only thing I could come up with was that Hill had bullied and manipulated Morgan. Hill had one particularly menacing scene in the movie that seemed to support the idea that he was overly controlling, and I could believe that Morgan might be strong in other areas of her life, but weak where Hill was concerned. Yeah, that was not where Harris was going with things at all, because the ending asked viewers to believe that Hill was a good guy who deserved happiness. WTF?

Let me back this up a bit. Early on in the movie, I noticed that the dialogue sucked. It was torturous, repetitious, and often awkward. For example, Morgan and Robert's early interactions weren't cute so much as terribly, terribly cringe-worthy. I expected it to take much more work on Robert's part to convince her that he wasn't really the potential creeper he seemed to be, so it was a little surprising when she hired him with barely a fuss. During their first date, Robert opined about black people's “distorted” view of marriage. Morgan talked about wanting a strong, spiritual man to lead her. I felt like Harris was leading me through a few very specific hoops via his characters' dialogue.

In the end, this was a message-driven movie more than anything. The most obvious one was exemplified by the movie's last line, which went something like this: “A toast to success...to us beautiful black people.” Black people can find love and be successful, and they should help each other out – not necessarily a bad message, although a bit more subtlety would have been nice. What rubbed me the wrong way was that Harris bent over backwards to give everyone he thought mattered a happy ending, even if they didn't deserve it, and even if he had to force them to be completely different people in order to accomplish it. Overbearing Hill and gold digging Mita fell for an incredibly obvious trick for absolutely no reason (other than that it was convenient for the story) and morphed into a happy, normal, healthy couple.

Robert, too, went through some bizarre transformations for the sake of Harris's messages. For example, supposedly Robert almost ran his dad's company into the ground back when he had control of it. His friend took over and saved it, and Robert concentrated on the hands-on painting work that he loved most. However, despite his demonstrated inability to keep an established business in the black, multiple people seemed to think it would be a great idea for him to start his own business. Success is not a “one size fits all” kind of thing, but Harris's message wasn't that nuanced, and so Robert magically started his own successful business with the power of Morgan's loving encouragement and the knowledge gleaned from a few books.

Black Coffee had potential. Morgan and Robert were a good-looking couple, and the bones of the story were decent enough. It was just too bad that every last shred of believability was drowned out by the movie's messages.

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