Kevin Costner is a busy actor these days playing everything from a superhero’s father (Man of Steel) to a dying CIA agent (3 Days to Kill). Next month he’ll play a high school cross country coach in McFarland, USA, but this weekend he shines as the imperfect Elliott Anderson in Black or White. It’s a different type of role for him. He’s a lawyer, he’s old and he’s salty.
As the movie opens, we are with Elliott at the hospital when he receives news that his wife who was in a car accident didn’t survive. Understandably he falls apart. Not so understandably, he turns to the bottle for help. Back home, Elliott is tasked in telling his granddaughter, Eloise (Jillian Estell) the sad news. Eloise’s mother, (Elliott’s daughter), died in childbirth and Eloise barely knows her father. Eloise’s mother was white; her father is black.
To make matters more difficult, Eloise’s grandmother on her father’s side, Rowena (Octavia Spencer), wants nothing more than for her son, Duvan (Mpho Koaho) to be reunited with Eloise. That’s not going to happen if Elliott get’s his way. Let the courtroom drama begin.
Black and White is unique in that nothing in it is completely…black or white. Elliott is rich and can provide anything that his little Eloise would ever need. Rowena also has money, not the kind of money that Elliott has, but she is doing alright for herself. Elliott and Eloise live alone. Rowena has a huge family living with her. Duvan is a former drug addict. Elliott is an alcoholic. Questions rise up on whether Eloise would do better living with a black family rather than a white one. Some family members want to make the situation a race issue while others appear to be colorblind. There is no simple answer, but in the end, the right one wins out.
Black or White is not a perfect movie, but it is engaging. Jillian Estell is a charming actress and looks very natural throughout the film. However, one of the weirdest parts of the story is the inclusion of Elliott’s business partner’s girlfriend Fay played by Gillian Jacobs. She is a blond airhead whose character really has no reason for being in the movie. Fortunately, about after halfway through, she isn’t anymore. Her character, obviously meant for comedy relief, just doesn’t work.
The movie posters for the film make the story look more rosy than it is. Costner’s character isn’t really likeable (but of course he is grieving through most of it) and Octavia’s character is a lot more fun than you would think it would be for a family drama like this.
All in all, Black or White is definitely worth seeing and though the film is intended for adults, pre-teens could benefit from seeing this movie as well. Some great conversations could be had afterward.