I'm Through with White Girls: The Inevitable Undoing of Jay Brooks / Dustin Rowles
Film Reviews | June 16, 2008 | Comments ()
After a while, you get used to the romantic-comedy template. In fact, after reviewing dozens and dozens of them, you begin to realize that it’s not the existence of either romance or comedy that makes a movie a romantic comedy — since those qualities so rarely exist in the genre — but whether the movie follows the romantic-comedy structure: A man and (usually a) woman meet; they either fall immediately in love, or hate one another and fall in love later, then separate due to a contrived argument or circumstance, before ultimately reuniting after a callback and/or heartfelt speech, i.e. the grand gesture. It’s been the same since Shakespeare, and there’s no indication that this will ever change. And why should it? Name a romantic-comedy that ends unhappily, and I’ll give you a bad romantic comedy (see, e.g., The Break-Up and Prime, two more recent examples in which the protagonists didn’t end up together).
And by traditional measures, I’m Through with White Girls: The Inevitable Undoing of Jay Brooks (currently making the film-festival rounds) fits the romantic-comedy mold: Jay Brooks (Anthony Montgomery), a slacker-geek graphic novelist with a history of commitment issues, meets Catherine (Lia Johnson), an up-and-coming feminist author. They fall for each other more or less immediately, develop a serious relationship over the course of the film, and then — through a contrived argument that entails both his fear of commitment and her trust issues with men — the two separate, and Jay tries to win her back with a grand gesture, this one involving self-humiliation.
By that count, I’m Through with White Girls is a typical romantic-comedy, except that it’s not: In addition to being a rare rom-com that actually roms and coms, it’s also unusually smart, clever, and contains an authentic social message that is neither trite nor self-serious. What’s unusual about the fact that Jay is a slacker geek graphic novelist is that he’s also African-American, and Catherine - an uber-feminist writer - is of mixed-race and happens to speak like a valley girl, both characters defying racial stereotypes. Jay’s history of commitment issues also all involve white girls, because black women have never found him particularly date-worthy. Nevertheless, he decides, after a series of bad relationships with a string of white women, to swear them off. Meanwhile, Jay’s quirky best friend (male best friends in romantic comedies are always quirky - check the archives), Matt (Ryan Alosio) is an unemployed white dude with a video-game obsession who, to win the affection of a white girl, studies rap music and embraces the hip-hop lifestyle.
Sounds kind of crass, doesn’t it? And yes: Perhaps in a conventional studio comedy, all the stereotypes about race and sex would be trotted out and lazily exploited in a borderline offensive manner (e.g., white chicks dig black guys because they have big dicks), featuring Martin Lawrence, Cedric the Entertainer, and LaWanda Page. But here, director Jennifer Sharp, working from a script from Courtney Lilly (who, fittingly, has written episodes of both “Everybody Hates Chris,” and “Arrested Development”) playfully toys with those stereotypes in as subversive a manner as allowed while still maintaining the romantic-comedy label. The whole thing is surprisingly sweet, strangely funny, and so unexpectedly good that it took me a while to realize it was actually a romantic comedy. Indeed, despite a title that screams lame urban comedy, I’m Through with White Girls is something akin to a cross between High Fidelity and a Spike Lee film, if Spike Lee still had a goddamn sense of humor.
Granted, it is a truly independent film (not from one of those corporate-owned specialty studios), and it shows in some of the film’s supporting cast - a few of the actors/actresses seem as though they were pulled off the street or were friends of friends just hanging out, likely given the two-week shoot (I am, however, impressed with the casting of Alaina Reed Hall, who some may remember from “Sesame Street” and “227.”). But despite a budget that probably wouldn’t pay for a day’s catering on a studio film, the cinematography is fantastic - vibrant and luscious, a romantic-comedy seemingly colored by a graphic designer. Super-hardcore-uber -neo-maxie- dun-dweebie-Trekkie geeks may even recognize the two leads - Lia Johnson (whose character is ten kinds of attractive and winsome as all hell) had a role in Star Trek: New Voyages, while Anthony Montgomery was a regular cast-member in “Enterprise,” and he is flat-out fantastic - the man effuses charisma, and I have no idea where this guy has been hiding. The two together have more chemistry even than Ashton Kutcher has with himself, which is saying something, given his obvious self-adoration. And Ryan Alosio is impressive as a poor man’s Justin Kirk, and his hip-hop white boy is less funny that it is sweet.
What’s most impressive about I’m Through with the White Girls, however, is its place in the current genre: It’s neither an Apatow-friendly dick-flick full of frattish humor or unattractive guys dating attractive women, nor is it the other side of the spectrum: A Rainbow Killer/McConaughey chick flick obsessed with finding Mr. Right. Instead, White Girls is a real goddamn love story that deftly explores race, gender, and class issues while maintaining a sense of humor. In other words, nothing that’s likely to come to a theater near you anytime soon.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife and son in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.