Movie Review - Little Boxes

Earlier this year, Jordan Peele's Get Out was a hit in the box office, quickly becoming the highest-grossing film for Blumhouse Productions and currently being the best reviewed film of the year. It used sleight horror and suspense elements to tell a story about interracial relationships, particularly between a black man and a white woman in a suburban setting. Peele was trying to expose what he perceived as racism among what is considered liberal white people who ostensibly are complimentary toward black people. Peele takes his film to a weird extreme that seemed to satisfy most but muddled the real issues at hand. This movie, written by Annie J. Howell and directed by Rob Meyer, tackles the same thing and addresses the same issues, but it doesn't mire itself in extreme horror and suspense elements.

Melanie Lynskey (Two and a Half Men and Togetherness) stars as Gina McNulty, a photographer who moves from Brooklyn, New York, to Rome, Washington. She does so because she's gotten a very good job at a college there. She takes her husband and teenage son from their hipster city life to the highly suburban and almost rural, small town.

Nelsan Ellis (True Blood) also stars as Mack Burns, a published author who is working on another novel. In the meantime, he's doing freelance writing. He's trying to put together an article for a food magazine. Mack is Gina's husband. He moved with her and their son, but the movers haven't delivered the furniture, so for a week or more he's frustrated by not having his stuff as well as the mold damage he's discovered in his new house.

Armani Jackson (Grey's Anatomy) co-stars as Clark Clayton Burns, the son of Gina and Mack. Because Gina is white and Mack is black, Clark is biracial. Peele is also himself biracial and the fact that biraciality isn't addressed in Get Out makes it intellectually dishonest. Clark forces the issue because he's literally caught between two identities and it's interesting to see him have to wrestle with that emotionally, more than the violence thrown at us by Peele.

Oona Lawrence (Southpaw and Pete's Dragon) plays Ambrosia, a 12 or 13-year-old white girl whose particular form of racism or race relations rivals that of all the characters in Get Out. It was reminiscent of a similar girl in Miranda July's Me and You and Everyone We Know. It's cultural appropriation, white people taking black culture as if it were their own, and even thinking that it's complimentary or flattering. There's an ignorance and even an arrogance to it.

What this movie also gets is the reverse phenomenon. The idea of black people acting white or the perception of it is explicated in ridiculous ways in Peele's movie. Here, it's way more believable, genuine and authentic, and it's not just with Clark who is half-white himself. It's with Mack who probably has the worst time assimilating into his now predominantly white neighborhood. Yet, in a shocking moment, he too comes across as acting or "sounding" white.

In addition to being a slight deconstruction of suburbia without totally dismissing it, the movie starts a conversation about race in the post-Obama era better than anything else in a long while. The movie brilliantly builds to an incident that doesn't just paint all black people as victims. It shows in small part that blacks can be culpable in race relations.

It by far doesn't excuse the behavior of whites in many instances, but this movie certainly doesn't come across with portraying people in just one light and all others in another. Here, people are people and not just generalizations.

Rated TV-14.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 29 mins.
Available on Netflix.


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