I know it’s a little late to be bringing up Lakeview Terrace. Typically, reviews for feature films appear in publications the week the film opens. But let’s be real here: despite its Week 1 box office triumph, Lakeview Terrace is the kind of film you wait a week or two to see… at a matinee showing. And that’s exactly what I did. Frankly, though, I’m fairly certain I would’ve been better off waiting on the DVD release or the bad BET overdub on basic cable (You know it’s coming… in 2011).
But I’ve digressed.
I can’t imagine what drew audiences to this bizarre race film last weekend. Was it director Neil Labute’s arthouse reputation as a skilled provocateur? Was it the involvement of Will-and-Jada’s profitable Overbrook Productions? Was it Kerry Washington’s alleged “hotness?” Or was it simply that surefire, time-honored Sam Jackson delivery of the classic trailer line, “Ah’m the POE-LEASE! You HAVE to do what I say!”?
Maybe it was a little of everything. For me, morbid curiosity was the driving force. I took stock of the premise: black cop terrorizes the interracial couple who move in next door, simply because he’s anti-miscegenation and protected by the badge, and I decided that there was no way this could be executed well. But I certainly wanted to see folks try.
I’ll give you the short version of events here and please note that from this point on, there will be HEAVY SPOILERS. So if you still intend to support Will, Jada, Sam, Kerry, or Patrick Wilson with your box office dollars, STOP READING NOW.
So. Right away, we meet Sam Jackson as Abel Turner, a stand-up beat cop whose territory is a low-rent section of LA. We also meet his two children, Celia and Marcus. Abel, a widower, is trying his darnedest to raise these two little darlings to speak “properly” and to support Shaquille O’Neal over Kobe Bryant (we’re never told why, but we later come to assume it’s because of Vanessa’s non-Black ethnicity—that, or the rape charge… the interracial rape charge).
Abel’s relationship with teenaged daughter Celia is fraught with tension. She deliberately interjects “Ebonics” into her conversations and dresses less than chastely. It’s stock teen daughter/Daddy fare…. until he smacks her. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Abel is shown to have a decent relationship with the multicultural neighbors in the gated community of Lakeview Terrace, a breathtaking berg overlooking most of LA. The first of the neighbors shown is an Asian fellow, with whom Abel makes observations about the new couple moving in next door.
Of course, as is often the case in films and television shows like this, it isn’t immediately clear that Patrick Wilson’s Chris is married to Kerry Washington’s Lisa. See, Lisa first appears in a locked-arm stroll with Ron Glass. The cinematographer spends a lot of time here (and throughout the film) focusing on extreme close-ups of Sam Jackson. He narrows his eyes, as if passing judgment on the May-December couple strolling the perimeter of the palacial house, and barely takes stock of the sweaty White guy dutifully unloading boxes from a UHaul.
Within two minutes, however, Lisa slips her arm out of Ron Glass’s, flits over to Chris and kisses him passionately.
And then, Sam Jackson’s eyes REALLY narrow.
I should probably tell you right now that this movie isn’t about Abel Turner. It isn’t about Lisa. And it certainly isn’t about Ron Glass, who phones in a few scenes as her father, Harold Perreau.
In fact, this film treats all of its Black cast as tertiary in order to reveal its true intent.
This is a film about how hard it is to be a White man married to a Black woman.
See, if you’re a White guy, who’s been courageous enough to fall in love across color lines, your father-in-law will loathe you. Your Black cop neighbor will harrass you — particularly about your preference for really loud ’90s hip-hop and especially for your hot Black wife — and you won’t be able to do anything at all about it… because HE’S the POE-LEASE! And worse yet, when you show just a hint of reticence about readiness to have children, your Black wife (with whom you have little onscreen chemistry) will stop taking her birth control pills, trap you into fathering a biracial kid, and then get really pissed when you’re not absolutely thrilled as soon as she breaks the news… from the floor of the bathroom in your bedroom, as she cries and cradles the toilet.
Oh, and none of these Black people will have any discernable reason for being so vicious or duplicitous. Perhaps it’s just their baser nature as Black people that causes them to behave so uncouthly? Or, as in the case of Lisa, maybe it’s her insecurity about her skin color that forces her to force you into fatherhood. As she tearily claims in the requisite “I’m pregnant” scene, maybe it’s not that you don’t want to have kids. “Maybe you just don’t want to have them with her!”
It’s okay, though. In the end, you get to justifiably gun someone down and, while you bask in the glow of your own clever heroism, you also deign to forgive your weird-ass, over-enunciating, birth-control-pill-skipping wife. Because you’re just that magnanimous.
So that’s Lakeview Terrace in a nutshell, people. You may not want to see this if you’re Black. There isn’t a likeable soul in here for you to identify with — least of all Abel Turner, whose logic devolves more and more as the film goes on (really, dude gets stupider by the frame) and whose already reprehensible, one-note character turns positively cartoonish by his daughter-slapping, homicide-committing, “I’M the POE-LEASE!” denouement. You’ll also find nothing relatable in Ron Glass or the actors who play Celia and Marcus, because about 2/3 through the film, they all disappear, never to be heard from or referenced again.
If anyone among you has seen this flick and come away with a more favorable interpretation of its thesis, please feel free to enlighten me. As far as I can tell, there’s no equity (or realism) for Blacks in Lakeview Terrace.