Richard Pryor: Omit the Logic: A straightforward, competent introductory biopic. The editing was pretty good, switching off the talking heads generally when it needed to, and they collected a spectrum of testifiers including the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Overall, though, it was a pretty hagiographic nostalgia trip.
They barely touched on the “demons” that drove Pryor–for example, about him growing up in a brothel, the deepest the insight ever got was, essentially, “And then wow, we realized he wasn’t making up those jokes about it, and damn, that’s bad.” I also would’ve liked to have more on why people stuck with someone who could be so difficult–his ex-wives and girlfriends, for example, seem to have remained recurring supports in his life, despite by all accounts horrible treatment of them by him–and some insight from the younger generation of comics about the continuing reach of his legacy. Lily Tomlin, Whoopi Goldberg, Dave Chappelle, and Robin Williams are the big comic names testifying on film here (I understand they got Tracy Morgan and Wyatt Cenac for Q&A at earlier showings, but this one didn’t have a Q&A), and except for Chappelle, they have no traction with my generation, so whatever they say about Pryor, I’ll listen but it doesn’t register. Not to mention Eddie Murphy and Bill Cosby’s absence are big, unexplained, glaring holes.
Fresh Meat: Horror-comedy. On-the-run ruthless gangsters take hostage a family in the middle of a lifestyle shift to cannibalism.
It’s gory-cartoony, and the comedy is mostly situational and visual. Not really a zinger movie. As for the emotional center of the film, it tries to mix in references to familial pressures to fit in with what your parents think you are while growing up and discovering your real identity, and on paper this movie covers a shitload of potentially fertile ground: interracial interactions, assimilation (or rediscovering your roots), living up to your parents’ expectations and failing, pedophile child abuse, lesbianism, feminism, gender roles in a heterosexual marriage (wife way more successful than the male). But it just doesn’t really get its teeth into any of these. You can see where the film could’ve gone really balls-out and made you laugh at society–but instead you’re laughing at these particular idiots, in this particular situation, and all the balls is just in the staging (special effects, fight scenes, shock value images–this film was done on $5 million in less than a month, but it’s way better put-together than a lot of mainstream big-budgets*). Also, the acting veers from either rampant scene-chewing (everybody but the two female leads) to the school of acting where you scrunch your face up to show you’re sad. So not carrying the load there. However, I will give it props for giving minority actors major roles, and for having the survivors be two women who did it by being smart and fighting it out to the end, as opposed to being recused.
*The director Q&A afterward made the interesting comment that he preferred movies to be as lean as possible, and actually would’ve cut out more if, apparently, distributors, etc. didn’t require a 90 min standard length. He also would’ve arranged a few scenes to get rid of what, after a night’s sleep, was a throwaway subplot about a white neighborhood kid trying to geek-talk his way into the teenage daughter (female lead)’s heart by being super-supportive of her Maori heritage and impressing her parents that way (could’ve been solved in two seconds by her admitting she’s lesbian). You didn’t really need the character, he didn’t serve any theme or the character development of any other character, and him showing up again in the middle of the film, when the family and the gangsters had just fought it out, was a total distraction from the central conflict. So yeah, I agree with the director there. But other parts of the movie definitely could’ve been expanded to explain why loyalties between who wanted to kill who (and why) changed by the scene here. The cast wasn’t good enough to just convey that by a couple smoldering looks.