Saturday movie review: Black or White

Considering the racially charged tensions and horrific acts of violence that have recently occurred in our country between whites and blacks, I expected the movie BLACK OR WHITE to be far more powerful than it turned out to be. Instead, the film landed itself a firm spot on my list of Mostly Meh Movies.

black or white film 

BLACK OR WHITE starring Kevin Costner and Octavia Spencer is billed as a comedy-drama based on real-life events. The film opens with Elliott Alexander (Costner) grieving the loss of his wife (Jennifer Ehle) who perished in a car accident. He and his wife—who are white—have had custody of their 7-year-old granddaughter Eloise (adorable Jillian Estell), who happens to be black, since their daughter died during Eloise's birth.

With Elliott's partner in grandparenting and Eloise's primary caretaker gone, the other grandma (Spencer as Rowena, aka Grandma Wee Wee) steps up and asserts her belief that the best spot for Eloise is now with Grandma Wee Wee and the rest of her black family. Elliott isn't willing to give up his granddaughter that easily, and a custody battle ensues—wherein much hinges not only on perceived racial biases but on Elliott's drinking problems and the drug addiction and irresponsibility of Eloise's father (Rowena's son), too.


Racial issues are addressed, of course, in BLACK OR WHITE but mostly in terms of the race card being pulled during the legal battle, not because either Elliott or Grandma Wee Wee are truly racist. The events may be real, but the whole thing seemed a gimmick to me. I can't honestly say it's because the performances were weak; they weren't too bad and there were indeed some heart-tugging tender moments as well as comedic ones (mostly via funny lady Spencer). I can't really say I wasn't hugely invested in the story because Mike Binder's screenplay or directing stunk, either. Perhaps in the end, my meh feeling for the film is simply because I just expected—and wanted—more friction, more feeling, more realistic and genuine resolution to a racially charged situation.

Spencer and Costner (who reportedly put up $9 million of his own money to finance the film) clearly feel quite strongly about BLACK OR WHITE, as this featurette proves:

I didn't hate BLACK OR WHITE. I definitely didn't love it either, though. Like I said, meh was the word, feeling, and takeaway for me. If any Grandma's Briefs readers have more positive feelings for the film, I'd love to read why in the comments.

BLACK OR WHITE (rated PG-13 on appeal "for brief strong language, thematic material involving drug use and drinking, and for a fight") comes out on DVD, Blu-ray and streaming May 5, 2015.

Disclosure: I screened this film free courtesy Fox Home Entertainment; opinions are my own.