No "Safety" (Or Satisfaction) in "Bringing Down" the Suburbs
- Thursday, March 06, 2003
Aside from the fact that few observers of contemporary life above the age of 15 could consider this notion some sort of blinding epiphany, the movie fails to support its own theme by concentrating mostly on stay-at-home moms and their children rather than wage earners. The only character who actually seems to hold a real job is the stressed out legal eagle played by Dermot Mulroney, and he abandons his work at the very beginning of the movie--so for most of the film we watch people enjoying their affluence with no visible effort. A more compelling comment on the lives recreated here might have focused on this odd anomaly, recognizing that it’s impossible to feel satisfaction from material blessings unless you know that you’ve worked hard for them. Lottery winners, in other words, seem to suffer from far more personal problems than independent businessmen who’ve toiled all their lives to accumulate wealth and usually feel that they deserve to enjoy it.
In this context, it makes sense that Hollyweird would look askance at prosperous, upper-middleclass Americans, and assume that they are all miserable---since there is no business in America which offers spectacle monetary rewards on a more capricious, unpredictable basis, often unconnected to hard (or decent) work, than does the entertainment industry. TWO STARS for The Safety of Objects. Rated R (appropriately) for frequent, often disturbing sexual content, and harsh language.
Bringing Down the House tries for laughs rather than social commentary, but still unleashes an avalanche of controversial messages, all of them bad. The most offensive aspect of this lame excuse for a comedy involves the most one-dimensional racial stereotyping this side of “Birth of a Nation.” All black characters happen to be emotional, uneducated, over-sexed, violent, warm-hearted, hip, cool and connected to the criminal underclass. All white characters are uptight, repressed, clumsy, materialistic, shallow, cruel and incurably racist: one of them even calls Queen Latifah “Jemima,” and another asks the female lead to sing “that wonderful old Negro spiritual” about “Ol Massa’”
The plot opens with real promise and contemporary edge as Steve Martin, a divorced Beverly Hills tax attorney, gets involved in a flirtatious relationship in an Internet chat room with a bright colleague he knows only as “lawyer girl.” They arrange to meet for a romantic, champagne dinner that he painstakingly prepares at his elegant home, but the frisky femme from the Internet turns out to be a violent convict (who only pretended to be a lawyer) played by the fleshly and irrepressible Queen Latifah. Steve Martin rudely resolves to throw her out of his house before the racist neighbors raise a scandal, but she refuses to leave until he helps her prove that she was wrongly convicted for armed robbery. She basically takes over his house (even inviting about a hundred of her gangsta, homie, inner city friends for a wild house party at Martin’s premises.
Of course, she also teaches the shyster a few life lessons--about the joys of down-n-dirty sex (“You got to talk dirty to her, real nasty!”) and the dangerous charm of hip hop culture. His children, assigned to poppa while ex-wife Jean Smart goes away for the weekend with a golf-trainer twenty years younger, also benefit from the interloper’s innovations. The movie unequivocally endorses marijuana and booze and parental forgiveness even for blatant lies from a precocious fifteen-year-old determined to make out with her boyfriend at an orgiastic party and to enrich her mind with the drug ecstasy.
The best performances come from supporting players, including the always amusing Eugene Levy as a super-sophisticated lawyer who becomes comically smitten with Queen Latifah (“She’s a cocoa goddess!”); Joan Plowright as a stuffy heiress (with a pampered bulldog named William Shakespeare) who might become Steve Martin’s most important client; and especially, the little known but physically imposing Milli Pyle as Martin’s ex-sister-in-law, a sinister, serpentine seductress who specializes in separating elderly lotharios from their money.
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