GET OUT * * * 1 / 2
Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Lil Rel Howery, Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener. Written and directed by Jordan Peele.
About two-thirds of the way through an opening night show of Jordan Peele’s enormously entertaining debut feature Get Out, a woman in the audience let out an enormous shriek. The rest of us responded with raucous laughter after she muttered a meek “Sorry…” and not even thirty seconds later screamed again.
See, unlike most critics who see films at private weekday afternoon screenings where they all talk through the movies, sniff each other’s farts and perform exaggerated reactions of boredom for one another’s amusement — I go to a multiplex with regular people just about every Thursday evening. And I’ll tell you, it takes a hell of a picture to get folks to look up from their phones these days, let alone scream twice in the space of a minute. Get Out is one of those movies. It’s a really good time.
Peele (formerly of the brilliant sketch comedy duo Key And…) has for his freshman effort constructed an impeccably engineered genre contraption with a bit more on its mind than just giving you the shivers. Mashing up Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner with Ira Levin stories like Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives, it’s a sickly hilarious skewering of liberal paternalism in which white condescension reveals sinister ends. As many of the film’s considerable pleasures lie in its twists and turns, I shall attempt to tread lightly here. (But if you want to maybe just close this browser window and go see Get Out right now that’s cool, too. We can always pick this up later.)
Daniel Kaluuya stars as Chris, a young African-American photographer who’s not exactly thrilled about spending the weekend at a country estate owned by his white girlfriend’s parents. As played by a perfectly cast Allison Williams, she’s the very model of perception-free privilege and hasn’t even so much mentioned to mommy and daddy that her new beau doesn’t look quite like boyfriends past. But then why should it matter? They’re all good liberals. Everybody here voted for Obama. Twice.
And yet there’s something disconcertingly, unnervingly *off* when the happy couple arrives in the country. Her parents are played by Bradley Whitford and Catherine Keener with a smidge too much ingratiating eye contact along with handshakes and hugs that uncomfortably linger. Are they overcompensating for their surprise at Chris’ complexion or is there something else happening here?
The awkwardness escalates at a family reunion, where wealthy white folks keep putting feet in their mouths and we watch Chris sweating to maintain a placid Obama-cool in the face of mounting microaggressions. The big joke of Get Out – and it’s one that draws blood – is that, like Chris, we spend half the movie wondering whether something shady is going on or if it’s just that these folks don’t have any idea how to behave around brown people.
As a comedian with killer timing, Peele knows how to parcel out the jolts and when to call in relief. The great Lil Rel Howery (hapless brother Bobby on The Carmichael Show, who I predict will soon win an Oscar for the inevitable Craig D. Lindsey biopic) damn near runs away with the movie as Chris’ best friend and foil, a suspicious TSA agent who takes his job home with him. He’s screamingly funny, yet notably doesn’t undercut the movie’s aura of danger. Get Out maintains a tricky balancing act, never teetering over into outright comedy.
Peele’s cutting use of iconography is what you’ll be discussing when the movie’s over. He frames a young black man in the suburbs wearing a hoodie in that same disquietingly vulnerable way teenage girls were photographed running through the woods in old slasher movies. There’s also the preponderance of white-guy sporting goods, with the foosball table and lacrosse stick foregrounded for maximum menace. My favorite of all is the way he uses Allison Williams – TV’s Marnie Michaels, ass-eaten avatar of Caucasian obliviousness – dressed head to toe in white, drinking a giant glass of milk and missing out on a massacre because she’s listening to the Dirty Dancing soundtrack on her (white, of course) earbuds.
I’ve also never heard an audience gasp in terror quite like the way this one did when a police car entered the frame, but that – like so many other things in Get Out – is a discussion perhaps best saved for a few weeks from now when more people have seen the movie. So you should get on that. Right away.