Friday, July 13, 2012

The Law of Unintended Consequences: My Early Review of the New Movie "The Obama Effect"


I always tell folks the truth; I don't pull any punches. Is that to my advantage or disadvantage? We shall see.

I just got back from an early screening of the new film The Obama Effect that is premiering across the country during these next few weeks. Here is my review. Consider yourself warned.

****

The Obama Effect is a well intentioned, but tonally confused and challenged movie that follows the political awakening of an African-American insurance agent named John Thomas, portrayed by the always reliable Charles Dutton, during the 2008 Presidential election.

Despite its many flaws in tempo and tone, The Obama Effect is a healthy and much desired departure from the black buffoonery and new age race minstrelsy foolishness offered up by Tyler Perry and others of his ilk.

The Obama Effect also features a great group of reliable black and Latino “B” actors who deliver solid performances. Unfortunately, just like Dutton, they are unable to transcend a poorly written script.

The Obama Effect’s plot is simple in its premise, but becomes increasingly confused and overwrought as the movie continues through to its conclusion. Charles Dutton’s character is an everyman who is forced to face his mortality after suffering a near fatal heart attack while arguing about politics at a hot dog stand with his friends…and yes, this scene does in fact occur in the movie.

As he recovers, John Thomas realizes that supporting then candidate Barack Obama’s run for the White House is a personal, almost religious, calling. Thomas subsequently dedicates himself to Obama’s campaign—even quitting his job to do so—and the plot finds its momentum going forward from this odd and bizarre choice.

Along the way, we encounter a range of characters such as Thomas’ loyal wife played by Vanessa Colloway, his Latino neighbors, an ex-con trying to stay on the right path, and their respective children and love interests. Kat Williams’ character Martin Luther Kennedy steals the show as a black Republican who is a hybrid of the foolish showmanship of 2012 Tea Party GOP candidate Herman Cain and the much maligned black conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

However, The Obama Effect meanders from a film about politics, to one about family relationships, to a sports drama about corruption in boxing, a public service announcement about the dangers of heart disease and obesity in the black community, a meditation on the “browning of America,” a reflection on felony disenfranchisement laws, and an exploration of the political and social tensions between blacks and Latinos.

If the producers and writers of The Obama Effect had decided to do a narrow drama focused on the relationship between Dutton’s and Williams’ characters they would have been much better served. Alternatively, if The Obama Effect decided to be a straight political comedy such as Idiocracy (or even a dark comedy such as Wag the Dog), the final product would have been much improved.

The central problem with The Obama Effect lies in its genre label as a “dramatic comedy.” This is a signal to a basic problem that the film’s creators cannot overcome.

While all of the performances are sincere—especially Dutton’s—the film is not sure about what it wants to be. The audience seemed confused as well, where they laughed at inappropriate times and seemed confused about the general direction of the film. Hybrid descriptions of a film’s intent like “dramatic comedy” are usually signs that its creators were not able to reconcile the project’s tone and direction. The Obama Effect would seem to validate this wisdom, as it tried to be all things to all viewers and left most unsatisfied.

For example, in one of the most odd and bizarre plot devices in the film, Dutton’s character speaks to a spectral, ghost-like vision of Barack Obama who offers him wisdom and guidance akin to a Twilight Zone or Outer Limits TV show episode. John Thomas is either crazy, deranged, impassioned, or just off of his anti-psychotic meds—the film offers little clarification in this regard. The film’s narrative is also awkward here: are we to laugh at Dutton’s obvious mental health issues and bizarre fetish for Barack Obama? Or are we to be inspired by his dedication to a political cause that he truly believes in? Is Dutton a Democratic and liberal version of the tragic black conservative character Uncle Ruckus in the Boondocks cartoon, a man who obsesses about Ronald Reagan and has ghostly visions of his idol? Should we embrace Dutton’s character or pity him?

I am a resident of Hyde Park in Chicago. I live down the street from the President. I voted for Barack Obama in the last election and will do so again (not because of a sense of racial group affinity, but rather because I find Mitt Romney and the Tea Party GOP’s policies a hellish alternative that I cannot in good conscience support).

I have also spoken to Barack Obama when he was a senator (and local celebrity) on more than one occasion—he is cool people. I cried when he was elected because I thought that given this country’s history that a black American like me could never become President of the United States. The power of that moment is hard to communicate across lines of race—trust me it was real, sincere, and deeply felt. As such, it was fascinating to see The Obama Effect in Chicago with a predominantly African-American audience.

The movie has an unintended impact and meaning. While The Obama Effect focuses on “hope and change,” and the excitement of that singularly important political and history changing moment, I left the film feeling sad and depressed. The dreams we impose on a candidate rarely survive the difficulties of practical governance—Obama’s tenure is proof of that fact.

Thus I must ask the following question. After watching the film, will Obama’s supporters be left feeling buoyed for what could have been and that which has not yet transpired? Or will they be upset and disgusted?

After seeing The Obama Effect I am concerned that his detractors will have further evidence of “group think,” and silly stereotypes about “Obamabots” and “Obamazombies” (voters who supported the President without thinking because they were caught up in the thrill of the moment) as ammunition to attack the country’s first President who happens to be black.

Of course this is not fair, and is an incomplete analysis of how voters come to decide if they should support a given presidential candidate. Nevertheless, it is a failing of The Obama Effect that the film could have an impact which is precisely the opposite as intended by its creators. This is the central problem with The Obama Effect: after watching the movie viewers are potentially left feeling less supportive of the President than before they entered the theater.

There is no way that such a sentiment can be considered a success given the plot and tone of the movie.

33 comments:

CNu said...

after watching the movie viewers are potentially left feeling less supportive of the President than before they entered the theater.

How could it be otherwise for a president you supported and continue to support, but are now compelled to describe as "president who happens to be black" rather than "first black president"?

Obama's uniquely rorschachian glamour (like a vampire's mesmerizing glamour) hasn't held up very well under sustained scrutiny...,

Anonymous said...

Tyler Perry would have made a much better movie of course....

chaunceydevega said...

@cnu. I don't think I ever called him the country's first black president. I may have slipped early but quickly caught myself once I read his extremely problematic speech on race where he disavowed Rev. Wright. I still don't think most folks get how conservative and problematic "The Speech" actually is.

@Anon. With this script it would have been even worse. But Perry knows his audience and would have added enough coonery and buffoonery for the talking at the screen crowd who I had to suffer through this movie with in order to make them happy. I left this out of the review, there were some people clapping at the end of the film and talking about the good old days of the election--Obama still has his magnetic draw for some. But then again, maybe they were happy because they go to see a free movie.

CNu said...

@CDV you too?

Anonymous said...

One of Obama's most lethal shortcomings which could come back to bite his ass with Rice now certain to be a VP on the GOP ticket is how Obama's inner circle of white handlers has created a disconnect with Black voters.

This of course is an old theme which happened in the civil rights movement where white liberals and white jews resented not being in control of the movement so they margainalized it and a power breach took place..

Alxerod and other white liberals in Obama's camp are like the current mayor of Chicago they just are not competent enough to handle Black issues nor do they have any serious relationships with Black power brokers in the trenches to seek their help..

Obama's pandering to white liberals at the expense of his core Black voters is tragic and in part has contributed to the loss in wealth and clout for Black folks in a Obama post industrial era..

The pathology of white liberals and how they cripple Black progressives is one of the ugly legacies of the "cum ba ya' model of liberation politics in America.

Mandlea often talks about how he would avoid the phoniness of white jews and white interests in SA he knew they always had an agenda often of course based on the inherent latent racism and bias that all whites have for Black folks regardless it they are liberal or conservative..

chaunceydevega said...

@Anon. Please review our comment policy and pick a name to post under. Also, where is the evidence of this Jewish conspiracy you are so fixated upon?

OTB said...

@ CD

"If the producers and writers of The Obama Effect had decided to do a narrow drama focused on the relationship between Dutton’s and Stevens’ characters they would have been much better served."

Dutton's character is clear. Who is Stevens? (IMDB shows no actor named Steven or Stevens, although an actor named John Diehl plays someone named Steve Warren).

HK said...

Mr.CD

Sorry about that UG did tell me about your suffocating comment policy ,,

As to your question I have 2 replies why are you not concerned with white Jewish racism and why are concerned about my perspective?

As a FYI my focus is on the. "white" component I am a black and Jewish do please stay focus with me RACE continues to trump everything in our nation including an Obama white house .,

HK said...

OTB

Good insight ... I have also seen the film and it was lacking in script development and authenticity

Again white writers simply will never be us.,

chaunceydevega said...

@OTB. Thanks for catching that.

HK said...

FYI

I am also a member in the think tank UG and others who post here are.
I have my own views as well

OTB said...

@HK

At least three of the five writers are black. Celeste Walker looks to be white, and Samuel Z. Jean is (at least for me) not yet located.

HK said...

OTB

Good to know but are they the principal writers and more importantly the director and producers I would wager are not .

This film is an example of the disconnect Obama and his handlers have with crafting a vehicle that will resonate this election cycle.

Where is the heart and soul of this man 's tenure ? He sends his kids to wrong school in DC , he distances himself from anything that has a Black nexus etc...

At some point it is him not just his impotent white supporting cast..

OTB said...

HK:
If you can find the level of influence of each, I would like to know.

Hankerson (founder of Blackground Records and former husband of Gladys Knight) has a long history with media. He's listed as both producer and writer.

Dutton, while not listed as a producer, is star, writer, and director.

Anonymous said...

OTB,

Dutton, Hankerson and other Black actors and contributors to this fim certainly deserve recognition but as with Obama I simply yearn for more..

This is a fictional story and I like to be mindful of this living under Obama's tenture is not fiotional..

Observing the plight of Black America in the Obama era is not fictional

Living in a nation where Black America's struggles have increased while Obama is in office is not fictional

And of course a Black Agenda=American Agenda..So why is the president unable to deliver on this simple equation given hispower and influence?

Cleary his white liberal and white jewish inner circle as I noted like the sorry ass Mayor of Chicago they have failed in so many ways etc..

chaunceydevega said...

@anon. please pick a name for yourself. i am really going to start insisting on that going forward.

thanks.

HK said...

I have already it is HK.... Stop sweating diverse views in here bro ..

What is your flow you have chased away my comrades with your selective filter of threats etc

What also is your flow about free speech ? You claim you like to post about tough issues in our community yet when a poster gets candid about white Jewish racism (I will also post about the racism imof Asians Arabs etc) you get very defensive and start tossing roadblocks to discourse with your Jewish conspiracy nonsense .

Backup Mr.CD cut out your speed bumps..

chaunceydevega said...

@Hk. I didn't chase away anyone, they chose not to comply with very basic standards of comportment. There is no free speech, this is a salon on a website that I moderate. That concept is much misunderstood by folks.

I enjoy interesting dialogue. I am just asking for evidence to back up these theorizations/conspiracies about white jewish folks. Evidence for these assertions, not difficult to come up with given your and others' obsessions with Jewish people?

Just offer some up.

There are no threats here. If anything your "brothers" could not comport themselves in a responsible manner. I hope you do and things will be fine.

"Backup Mr.CD cut out your speed bumps..

Please watch your tone going forward and stay on topic. Be respectful, polite, and realize that you are a guest. If you are incapable of this move along.

HK said...

CD

I am going to ignore your last edict it was full of false inferences and your bias driven myopic analysis of reality

This is not a classroom nor a court room where is your proofs on nonsense you conflate in here??

Stop it with the threats you react like an intellectual
coward when a poster does not follow you scripted contours of discourse.

None of comments about Jewish racism have anything to do with Jewish conspiracies these are your terms and constructs you have inserted intoy flow. Please refrain from contaminating my free flow with your defensive insults and excuses for Jewish racism in far to many Black venues

Watch your tone withe and govern your defensive posturing unlike my comrades who you chased away with your petty posturing I will not tolerate hypocrisy

Now get out if the way of organic discourse stop sufficating free flows of chatter

HK said...

CD

FYI I am part of a black alternative think tank in the D I am along with others assign to.Montitor media venues from the Internet to print

Get rid of me more will follow....

So come correct and stop the nonsense !!

HK said...

Free yourself bro..Come Out

Take off the mask bro

Our world now

Come Out

Come Out

Masked Man ... Come Out

I am going to flame WARN with ideas that matter we have a blueprint !!!!

chaunceydevega said...

@HK

Are you deranged? Off your meds? Don't you have better things to spend your time on?

I am leaving your comments up so folks will understand why I am banning you going forward.

I also thing you are good sport for others to make fun of.

I like this though: "Get rid of me more will follow...."

My Dr. Who reference earlier is very appropriate it would seem.

You and your "think tank" of sweaty basement dwellers are truly something else.

sabrinabee said...

I haven't heard of the movie. I suppose it is airing only in select cities for the time being. If it is as confusing as you suggest, I guess I should count myself lucky for the time being. As if any of us need any more fodder to be uncertain about this president. Those that would use the movie to portary the Obama voter negatively, would use anything at all for the same aims. Whether the criticism is legitimate or not. Obama could walk on water, not that he does, and they would say he used the wrong lake.

CNu said...

I am leaving your comments up so folks will understand why I am banning you going forward.

lol, f.i.n.a.l.l.y....,

Cobb only put up with that talking monkey for a few weeks.

I banned him after his very first mouth-breathing comment.

Calling him a men's room attendant was such an unwarranted slur on men's room attendants...,

Almost makes me think I owe an apology to jigga..., NAH!!!!

Razor said...

CD
It appears from your review of the film that the art actually imitates the life of the Obama presidency thus far. The film left you feeling sad and depressed, like a person having experienced the mercurical and fantasic rush of doing meth or speed all night (the Obama inauguration) then crashing down off of the high. You had the time of your life, but now feel like crap. Black folk went on an incredible ride beginning when it started to all seem possible. Daily life was buoyed for months on end. We became captives of Obama's soaring rhetoric and it's fictional possibilities.

We came to discover that in gaining a president who "happened to be black" that we got stood up on the things we cared about again and again. Like a lovesick lover we made excuses over and over again for him. Now we are beginning to feel like just maybe we have been played but we still aren't ready to say so. But the dance is now awkward and unnatural, there is no genuine flow. The conversations forced.

It's hard to make that movie, even with Charles Dutton for cover.

chaunceydevega said...

@Razor. Art does imitate life sometimes. Your observations were spot on. Given my conspiratorial tendencies I would not at all be surprised if this movie were funded by some GOP black conservative group. Maybe I will make a Loose Change inspired documentary on such a topic.

Sherrie said...

CD

I am one of those lurkers who loves this site but I bit gun shy to post given the intensity and high level of comments.

I have observed this mean spirited banter between you and some posters I will admit both sides make sense and are wrong.

Yet I do sense a bit of bias on your actions of late. I agree with your comment policy but why are you not being consistent ?

I think it is wrong for a poster to you names or each other names. I think it is wrong to refer to a poster as a talking monkey.

Please elaborate on why you allowed this post to still be up on the site.

Thanks much for your feedback.

chaunceydevega said...

@Sherrie. I will take your question in the spirit offered and not assume they are part of a coordinated effort to obsess over that issue.

I never claimed to be consistent. I try to be fair and reasonable. There is a difference.

Going back to the salon analogy or bar example--a regular gets more leeway than a new arrival. Cnu, if you look at his track record for all of his eccentricities actually provides info and moves conversations forward more than not. Just like a friend at the bbq who is getting a little too worked up, as the host I will just offer up a wink to tone it down if necessary.

I allowed those comments to stay on the site because this is my site and I can do so. Nothing more elaborate than that.

Also, the bizarre and frustrating behavior of these sweaty basement dweller activists was pushing me to say thing much more barbed and direct than to allude to the fact that, yes, they were/are in fact acting like poo slinging cyber monkeys wallowing in their own intellectual scatology while they perform virtual analingus on each other.

Again assuming your sincerity, I have not wanted a comment policy but the crazy cultish behavior or a group of borg like anonymous commentors who by their own admission wanted to dictate what WARN should be, and how I should write, moved me to it.

I do hope to hear from you in the future. This will be the last time I explain my comment policy. The post is up, do feel free to read it. There is lots more and other matters to discuss as opposed to a reasonable set of guidelines designed to generate substantive conversation here on WARN.

I hope you chime in on other matters too.

Anonymous said...

CD

Thanks for the reply you guttless cowardly piece of shit...You closeted coward who hides being a mask to spit on people

Yep you are going to hear a lot from me in the future you old gullible dumb fuck

Sherrie

chaunceydevega said...

@AnonSherrieSybil.

Are you off of your meds? I knew that was you. In an adult and reasonable manner, please explain your rage issues. Are they rooted in parental neglect, molestation, bullying, malnutrition in the womb or in early childhood? Did you suffer from what used to be called "water head" as an infant?

Why are you spending all of this time proving my point that you are unhinged and immature. Move along and go pollute another site.

I am leaving your profanity and threats up, so again, folks can understand how extremely patient I am and the more than reasonable grounds for banning you and your cult members. I do hope your brother/mentor Thrasher is not affiliated with you. That would reflect very very poorly on him.

nomad said...

Oh. gosh! I'll be back to read the responses later, so scuse me if someone's already said this:

"This is the central problem with The Obama Effect: after watching the movie viewers are potentially left feeling less supportive of the President than before they entered the theater."

Yaaayy.

nomad said...

@ CD
"I thought that given this country’s history that a black American like me could never become President of the United States."

He's not like you... unless you're the son of an African national who grew up in a wealthy white household with connections to the CIA.

chaunceydevega said...

@Nomad. Zing!