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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Movie Review: The Human Contract

I didn't write about this film "from writer-director Jada Pinkett-Smith" on my movie review site "Soul Sis-Star Reviews" as I don't really consider it Black Cinema, but wanted to comment on it because of it's director, Mrs. Will Smith.

Full disclosure: I am not the biggest fan of Jada--I am not even what you would consider a small one, but I tried to stay as unbiased and objective as possible while viewing this.

I am, however, a huge and devoted fan of those who do many things in their lifetime, and do it with confidence, swagger, and success. Transistions that a normal person would like to do even one of in their lifetime. People like Paul Newman for example, who was an actor, a race car driver, and a philanthropist. Fred Williamson who was a football star, TV star on Diahann Carroll's 60's TV show Julia, then went on to produce his own movies, making him arguably the biggest Black action star ever.

Then we have Mrs. Smith, though trying out everything in her heart's desire; book author, relationship expert, TV star, rocker, producer, philanthropist, and now director, seems to be a Jack of all trades and master of none. Well, except how to marry very, very, well.

That's not exactly fair, I guess. I have a begrudging respect that she actually does it, tho the results are usually not impressive to me. There is something about her that I find very disingenuous, and with this film I found myself bouncing back and forth from the begrudging respect back to my thoughts of pretension.

The respect comes from the fact that she wrote a film that isn't entirely bad--a story of a bored and suppressed rich and well connected executive, who finds an interesting and much needed diversion with Spanish star Paz Vega.

The story is not complicated, seemingly aiming to be a sexy noir-ish film on par with "9 1/2 Weeks" or "Basic Instinct", where a mysterious and sexy stranger shakes up the life up a formerly repressed and conservative protagonist, bringing out a freak inside they never knew existed, thereby freeing all other emotional, spiritual repression, blah, blah, blah.

There are several issues which prevent this film from reaching the annals of the movies I just mentioned....first of all let me state that I promptly fell asleep 15 minutes in, despite the fact there was a sex scene and Idris Elba using his real Brit accent 10 minutes in. Not a good sign.

There is also the lead, probably the most unsexy dude ever in a supposedly erotic film, Jason Clarke. He is unlikeable in every way, not that handsome or hot, only showing emotion when he is angry, and when he is angry, then someone always gets beat down. Badly. What executive goes around doing things like that? (It is part of the supposed "big reveal"). The pacing is very uneven, mostly deadly slow, with no tension or anything compelling to keep you wondering what will happen next. In fact, the film doesn't really even have a point until about an hour into it--surely a factor that will lose many a viewer. Jada Pinkett plays the executive's sister. Ummm...why is he white and she's Black? Why is absolutely no explanation given about that? (at least not one that I heard).

Great attention is given to a rice dish that Vega feeds the exec; it pans over the plate slowly no less than three times, yet a scene where the exec saves a homeless man from near death is given exactly 15 seconds. Huh?

Anyhoo, Paz Vega turns out to be married, but she and her husband have "an understanding" and apparently he is solidly behind her while she's out juking whomever, male or female. Is this art imitating life, Jada? Or just titillating stuff that you do with the press so well?

Turns out the exec ends up having a problem with the husband situation, even though she'd been quite clear and honest all along from practically the beginning. And despite the fact that all she does is look extremely beautiful and is extremely kind and understanding to him, even though he is a self-centered, spoiled, whiney crybaby. Just a couple of the many holes in the story. He ends up learning about life and love through her, after it's just a bit too late.

What we have on our hands is not a 9 1/2 Weeks or a Basic Instinct, but something in the realm of their massively inferior sequels; "Wild Orchid" and "Basic Instinct 2", both also very unsexy "erotic" thrillers. But I must admit, even saying all of this, it is a pretty film to look at, and Jada has potential if she could focus on one thing. Maybe just writing, or maybe just directing. And no Spike Lee-ing by inserting herself in the film. Just my opinion.


uglyblackjohn said...

I thought you retired since moving up-north.

Jada is 'aight...
But yeah... she does seem to be trying to do too much at a lower quality level.

Are there any good (or at least interesting) Black movies coming out soon?

SDG said...

Thanks for the review. I didn't have much interest in seeing it. I like Jada, always have. However, I agree that she has a platform in which she can indulge in many ways.

Given that you think she has some potential and the dearth of Black folk (esp. women) writing/directing, it would be nice to her focus on making films.

Invisible Woman said...

@ubj: naw. just lazin'. but i am moving back to LA at the end of this month--i'm afraid it's ruined me to live anywhere else :-)

you know, there isn't anything i can think of on the horizon that i want to see besides lee daniel's "precious", and that's sad. i have a post coming later today regarding that.

@sdg: yes, i do believe that with some guidance and patience she may have something with either one. unless the majority of the writing was a ghostwriter, or most of the directing was done by someone like an AD or 2nd AD...i am still a bit cynical, can't help it.

Sergio said...

Talking about Jada "marrying very very well" made me think who would have thought that she of all the actors on A Different World would be the one to make it big? I would have bet money that it was going to be Jasmine Guy. But then again Guy had the program of playing Whitley so well and her character was so ingrained in people's minds that no one could see her in anything else. (Also aside from the fact that, well to put it politely, Jasmine hasn't aged very well) But what about everyone else? Dawn Lewis, for example? I remember her in I'm Gonna Get You Sucka and that's about it. Charnelle Brown? Kardeem Hardison? Darryl Bell? SINBAD?????
At least Cree Summer is still around doing a lot of voiceover work and as rock singer. Still funny how things work out.

If Jada hadn't married the BIGGEST MOVIE STAR IN THE WORLD where would she be now?

Invisible Woman said...

@sergio: probably doing more movies like woo, or being a bigger queen of dvd's than vivica.

then again, jada is not the type to go out like that...if it wasn't will it would have been someone else--say obama lol

Reel Whore said...

Never really loved or hated Jada, I was always more of a Cree Summer fan. But Jada's hot potato professionalism is tiring. It would be nice if she could find that one thing (beyond marrying very well) where she can excel. Then again, so many of us search for their calling, but why does it seem weird when it's done so publicly by a celeb?

Sergio said...

It seems weird to you because

1) Jada tries REALLY REALLY hard. It's like she's constantly making a real effort to make people notice how many different things she's doing. It doesn't seem to flow naturally. Look at IW comparisons like Paul Newman and Fred Willaimson. They did so many things so effortlessly and also because they were good in what they did. Look at Cree Summer, she does voice over work and is hard core rock singer But with Jada you can see her working

which leads to No. 2

which has IW has stated, Jada is not particularly good at anything she does. For example, have you ever seen her rock music videos? (You can probably find them on YouTube) I mean WTF? One thing she is NOT is a rock singer. I know for a fact when she has performed on stage she and her band were booed off the stage.

But man, did she marry well.

Reel Whore said...

Sergio, I remember catching a live performance of her rock band on some talk show a few years back...I had to turn that crap w/ a quickness. I don't think my ears would've made it thru a whole set.

She is really good at latching onto Will's arm at premiers and awards. She should just perfect that.

Sergio said...

But bless her heart she tries. Lord knows, she tries.

The Drama Queen said...

I completely agree with you about JP. She's always kind of bothered me, but I've always tried to like her on Will's behalf. I had actually no idea she directed a movie, let alone wrote one. That's pretty good in it's own right, even if the movie wasn't good.

Invisible Woman said...

@reelwhore and sergio: you guys touched on it, for sure. it's okay to try different things for sure, but there is such a "LOOK AT ME EVERYBODY" quality and tone to all of just seems a bit...I don't know-- undignified in a way. but like i said, if she was really the one making things happen on this film, she might be able to hone a talent.

Invisible Woman said...

@dramaqueen: Welcome! :-) yes, it is a decent first try, but it faltered; i definitely think she should try again.

16, huh? and blogging? good for you!

somady said...

I liked Human Contract. I am no Jada fan either. I saw it at the Chicago International Film Fest in October. It wasn't her in particular that drew me to movie but the story. It was provocative and something that we just aren't seeing these days. The fact that she took on the challenge really piqued my interest. I agree, the pacing was a challenge but I thought is was creative and looked good. I was happy to see well written and acted characters that didn't fall into our puritanical norms.

I thought it was a great effort and certainly better than any other films directed by Black folks as of late.

I read that she wrote it for herself. Surely Black folks are not a monolith. Can't we delve into things deemed outside of what little is expected of us?