Regular readers will note a regular cry of anguish from this reviewer; what’s this film got to do with anything? Sure, escapist entertainment is cool, but a good film should be relevant to our lives, rather than just vanishing off into self-indulgent obscurity. Over decades, cinema has evolved and devolved; in some eras, the stars were important, in others, the locations and screen size, more recently, technology, pre-sold sequels and franchises. But as a hook to grab us, you can’t beat relevance, ie having something to say about the world we live in that’s worth hearing. Indie cinema is better positioned to do this than studio films, which tend to lag about twenty years behind cultural and historical developments.
So it’s worth giving a warm welcome to Black White and the Greys, an indie drama that’s very much about today. Written, directed by, starring and almost certainly fully catered for Casey Nelson and Marchelle Thurman, this well-shot and conceived film begins at the start of the recent, seemingly unending pandemic; the numbers may not make headlines any more, but the societal decline shows no signs of slacking off. Caleb and Jordie Grey are in the kind of enforced lockdown most of us remember, looking anxiously at rising numbers of virus casualties on their tv screens. She’s a lawyer, he’s a cameraman with writing ambitions, but she’s left to work remotely as the family breadwinner. This creates different kinds of strain and stress on each of them as the virus empties the streets; the same goes for their friend Mike (Jay Jablonski) a dentist. Mike‘s visits prove to be a de-stabilizing influence, as do the Black Lives Matters protests which are taking place in the background. It’s a perfect storm of physical threat, danger, and responsibility (the Greys have a small child to take care of); can their relationship survive?
While most movies are keen to avoid saying anything at all for fear of alienating the easily offended, Black White and the Greys takes the opposite tack; we’re talking about Trump, we’re talking about Black Lives Matter, but we’re not talking about sloganeering, quick-fix virtue signalling or glib posturing for today’s news cycle. Jordie is sensitive to racial issues, Caleb less so, but when Jordie reads a posting from Caleb’s mother on social media, she feels that she wants to withdraw their child from visits to their grandparents. Without recourse to melodrama, this plotline traces the cracks that divide America; both Caleb and Jordie have a point, and reasons for their actions, but the growing tension is pulling them apart; can they find some kind of way forward?
Black White and the Greys is a perfect example of how an indie movie can make Hollywood product look positively antiquated; it’s attractive to look at, professionally shot and edited, and acted in a natural style that makes it easy to believe in the characters. But more than that, Nelson and Thurman are not just observing the fractures and fissures of modern life, but trying to bridge them and find some kind of positivity. This is a thoughtful, excellent film that’s an antidote to the overcooked cinema, streaming and tv product we’re increasingly used to; Malcolm and Marie would be a good contrast with this. This blog has a number of purposes, not all of them serious, but championing the best in indie cinema is one of the prime directives, and recommending such accomplished fare as this is very much what we’re all about in 2023.