21
Aug
09

#99: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner

Question: What is Katharine Hepburn so scared of in this picture?

GWC_Hep Face

If you said a grizzly bear just walked into her living room, sadly, you are incorrect.  Yes, in the abundantly racist world of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (#99 on the list), an educated black man showing up at your doorstep is more shocking than if it were a wild animal in your house.  The film is far from racist, but features a lot of racism.

The start of the movie plays out like an uncomfortable, prejudicial farce.  Returning home from her recent vacation, 23 year old, Caucasian, trust fund bimbo Joey Drayton (Katharine Houghton) brings home her newly appointed African American fiancé to meet the folks.  Dr. John Wade Prentice (played by the stellar Sidney Portier), has accomplished much in the medical field.  You’d think the consent of Joey’s parents for the marriage would be almost immediate with this bit of information.

MPW-10743Once again, you’re incorrect.  Upon first meeting, Joey’s mother Christina (played by Katharine Hepburn) doesn’t know if she should shake Dr. Prentice’s hand or play dead to avoid being eaten.  Joey’s father Matt (Spencer Tracy) isn’t too happy about this impromptu interracial engagement either.  In fact, everyone in the Drayton’s circle has something to say about it.  Joey exists as the one character who tries to act like there’s nothing wrong.  This gives her character somewhat of an inherent annoying quality.

What works for the film is the placement of the story’s pieces.  Layers and layers are added to the plot as we learn about the predicament facing the characters.  Dr. Prentice tells Matt in private that he will not marry Joey unless her father gives permission.  Add in some crucial story threads, a ticking clock, along with a dollop of social commentary, and you’ve got one hell of a film.

Okay, yes, the movie is a bit cheesy and long winded at times.  But it’s not just about the intolerance of interracial relationships.  In it’s purest form, the film is a love story.  And not really in that Hugh Grant, fairy tale, vomit inducing love story kind of way.  It’s about love conquering all, despite differences in one’s background and all that touchy feely crap.

The message that exists under the surface is the question “How much say do parents really have in a child’s decisions as an adult?”  Dr. Prentice’s definitive monologue of independence to his father says it all.

And Lord knows I could stand to take a page out of his book.  But for now, I think I’ll continue doing menial chores in exchange for shelter at my parents’ house.  Let’s see how long I can hold out.

brett headbrett headbrett headbrett head4 out of 5 Brett Heads

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