The American Society of Magical Negroes

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

The American Society of Magical Negroes
dir-scr Kobi Libii
prd Julia Lebedev, Eddie Vaisman, Angel Lopez, Kobi Libii
with Justice Smith, David Alan Grier, An-Li Bogan, Drew Tarver, Michaela Watkins, Nicole Byer, Rupert Friend, Aisha Hinds, Tim Baltz, Farelle Walker, Floyd Anthony Johns Jr, Girvan Swirv Bramble
release UK 26.Apr.24
24/US Focus 1h44

watkins byer friend

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smith and grier
Like Harry Potter, this movie inducts a hapless guy into a supernatural parallel society, riffing on the literary device of the "magical negro" who solves a white man's problem (as in The Legend of Bagger Vance). Writer-director Kobi Libii peppers the film with knowing satire, giving weight to a narrative that never quite takes hold. Essentially, this is an enjoyable romantic comedy souped up with topical issues and silly wizardry.
In Los Angeles, struggling artist Aren (Smith) is recruited by Roger (Grier) to join a secret group that's been making the world safer for centuries by helping whites feel less uncomfortable, and therefore less dangerous. After training from Gabbard (Hinds) Aren is assigned to stressed-out Jason (Tarver), who works with Lizzie (Bogan), a sparky girl Aren just met in a cafe. Aren discovers that Jason's dream is to be more like his billionaire social-media boss (Friend). But as Aren helps Jason prepare for a big presentation, he realises that Jason is falling for Lizzie too.
Roger notes that for Black people in America, white discomfort is the loudest thing they hear when they walk into any room. And he urges Aren to stop running start listening to it. The script leaves this intriguing idea in the background, instead zeroing in on how Aren's crush on Lizzie complicates things has he tries to help Jason. The rather contrived hitch is that if Aren puts himself first, the entire society's magical powers will be in jeopardy. Not that we ever doubt where this is going.

Smith delivers a textured performance as a young man who is only now discovering his own voice, bringing out Aren's remarkable journey into self-confidence. His relaxed persona helps ground the film's more outrageously corny plot points, as does his easy chemistry with Bogan, terrific as a smart woman who is also contending with serious prejudices. The script never integrates these things very smoothly, but the actors keep it buoyant.

Jagged-edged dialog continually spices things up. Roger asks Aren, "Why are you so nice?" then offers the answer: "Because white people will kill you." As Aren gets the hang of this job, he begins to recognise the problems that come with being so relentlessly deferential. And there are pointed comments about the things he doesn't say every day simply to avoid discomfort. If the script had better balanced these bigger ideas with the engaging interpersonal story, this might have been a provocative gem.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 22.Apr.24

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© 2024 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall