Black Or White

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want to hug Octavia Spencer.

Black Or White is a message movie, yes, but not as heavy handed and unrelenting as many such films tend to be. There’s humanity and love here to counterbalance the resentments and grudges.

Elliott Anderson (Kevin Costner) is an L.A. attorney. He and his wife have been raising his mixed race granddaughter, following his teen daughter’s death during childbirth. When Elliott’s wife is killed in a car crash, leaving grandpa to raise the girl by himself, the other grandma (who is African-American) Rowena Jeffers (Octavia Spencer) decides to seek custody.

A key element of Black Or White’s charm is the little girl Eloise (Jillian Estell) who is the subject of the custody battle. Estell is cute and she’s a good actor.

While the relationship among the grandparents has been respectful if not warm, Elliott still has hard feelings against Rowena’s son, Eloise’s father, Reggie (André Holland) who he blames for his daughter’s death. When Reggie joins in the custody battle, things turn ugly.

Complicating the situation is Elliott’s heavy drinking. In fact, he drafts Eloise’s tutor Duvan (Mpho Koaho) to serve as his driver when he’s too drunk to drive.

The always great Anthony Mackie is attorney Jeremiah Jeffers, representing Rowena and Reggie. Standup comic Bill Burr is surprisingly good as Rick Reynolds, Elliott’s friend, law firm partner and courtroom attorney.

Black Or White could have easily slipped into the talky melodrama of a Hallmark or Lifetime TV movie, but with a busy plot and timely comic relief, it keeps up a good pace that should keep audiences engaged. Costner is the big star here, but Octavia Spencer is a joy to watch onscreen. Her takes are priceless.

This is a movie that Costner helped bankroll. He came to St. Louis, where racial polarization continues to bubble under, to promote the film and its message. Costner’s character says things that some white folks may have felt but never articulated. Rowena and her extended family are people who are easy to admire and respect. Black Or White presents a story that should entertain as well as provide a few things for everyone—black or white—to think about.

The Vow—((A Heart-Shaped Movie))

I have seen your cable channel future and it is “The Vow.” I predict this movie will become a cable staple for women like “Where the Heart Is” was a few years ago. It will turn up throughout the ‘teens on Lifetime, Hallmark, Oxygen, OWN and others and will be watched over and over by many.

Take two attractive, likeable characters. Put them in a crisis. Flash back to their meeting, their courtship and their marriage (which includes their self-written vows). If you have a romantic gene in your DNA, you will become engaged in their story.

The key element here is Channing Tatum’s character. Leo is the sensitive, romantic guy that most women want their own guy to be. He is not shown to have a jerky side, but is totally dedicated to his woman, Paige, played by Rachel McAdams. Leo also happens to be somewhat hunky.

The story, “inspired by true events,” has the couple involved in an auto accident. After recovery, Paige has no memory of the past few years, which include her entire time with Leo. Her parents, from whom she had been estranged, come back into her life after the accident.

Do I need to issue a spoiler alert? I won’t reveal whether the situation gets resolved, but will point out that this is a romantic movie being released just before Valentine’s Day.

Overall, this is a well-crafted movie with a few unexpected plot points. It feels just a bit too long, but that could be a result of the movie’s deliberate pacing and Tatum’s restrained acting style. Yes, “The Vow” is a perfect date movie—for new couples, as well as for old married people.

At the screening I attended, there were an inordinate number of women without men in the audience. If you’re a woman and your guy won’t take you to see “The Vow,” it’s okay to go with girlfriends. If you’re a man, here is an opportunity to show your woman that you can be just as sensitive and romantic as Leo (if not as hunky) by taking her to this movie.