American Son review – Kerry Washington can’t save Netflix misfire | Film

There are important, pertinent ideas in this movie, a Netflix special adapted by Christopher Demos-Brown from his Broadway stage play and directed by Kenny Leon: ideas about racism, sexism and generational conflict. There are good professional actors here doing their well-intentioned best. The dialogue might well have worked well enough in the theatre – well enough to make it a hit, clearly. But on the screen, it’s a deafening misfire, like the most unbearable, unwatchable daytime TV soap filled with the most awful self-conscious hamminess, parodic emoting and pointless shouting-at-each-other acting.

The scene is a police station in Miami, in the dead of night. Kerry Washington plays a divorced African American woman, frantic with worry, having reported her 18-year-old son Jamal missing. He has taken the car. Might he have been pulled over somewhere, and fatally lost his teen temper with some nervy trigger-happy cop?

A junior officer, played by Jeremy Jordan, is taking her statement with bland bureaucratic condescension, but agreeing to go beyond the rule book to answer her increasingly obstreperous demands for action and information. She is a college professor, yet nonetheless all too grimly accustomed to a million little racist putdowns – this white officer’s attitude feels like more of the same. Is that fair?

Maybe, maybe not. Then her ex-husband shows up (Steven Pasquale): white, clean-cut, and an FBI officer to boot, and to her fury, this cop’s attitude is quite different. To him, he is really helpful. The fault lines in this damaged couple’s failed relationship – and perhaps also the fault lines in US society – are painfully tested as the long quarrelsome night drags on. And as it does so, the terrible thought becomes ever stronger: has something serious happened to Jamal?

The problem is that these people are not people – they are characters. They do not speak English, they speak dialogue, pages and pages of it, yards and yards of it. It fills their mouths like cardboard. Each scene is like a long drama class. You expect the director to interrupt at any moment and say: “Mm, yeah, OK, let’s try that again, but maybe try … a little less?” There are almost laughable sudden changes of mood and one truly toe-curling “flashback” scene when the unhappy couple remember meeting for the first time as college students – a scene of outrageously sucrose ickiness. The whole movie often feels like a 90-minute SNL sketch with zero laughs.

Kerry Washington is a great performer normally, an award-winner recently as Anita Hill in the TV play Confirmation. But this material is not worthy of her.

Source: The Guardian

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