I had to give LILA & EVE a shot because of my love of different types of vigilante revenge movies. In this one the titleational duo are two women (Viola Davis [from the JESSE STONE movies] as Lila, Jennifer Lopez as Eve) who meet in a support group for mothers of murdered children and decide to ignore the group’s core principle of learning to accept what you can’t change.
Like Neil Jordan’s THE BRAVE ONE with Jodie Foster, this tries to lean harder on the respectable drama side than the satisfying DEATH WISH one. Lila’s son was killed in a drive-by shooting, most likely not meant for him. When she waits around all day to talk to the detective in charge (Shea Whigham, FAST & FURIOUS) he doesn’t even recognize her. They discuss the lack of progress in front of a picture of a dead white cheerleader who has her own task force.
But Eve won’t have it. She pushes Lila to go out to the block where it happened, find the criminals that work there, question them, work their way up the ladder until they find who did it. During their first parking lot confrontation the guy pulls a gun and Eve shoots him. Now they’re killers. She takes his phone and uses what she finds on it for further detective work.
I’ve been pro-Jennifer Lopez (ANACONDA) for life since OUT OF SIGHT, but I’m afraid she’s the weak link in this cast. She’s supposed to be kind of a flashy, trashy character, so she wears fur coats and enormous turtlenecks. She’s allowed/made to have wrinkles, which is new for her I think. But she acts in kind of a hammy style at odds with everybody else’s naturalism. That it turns out to have a thematic purpose doesn’t change that it’s kinda grating.
Davis (LAW ABIDING CITIZEN), on the other hand, is better than the movie probly deserves. It’s a real performance of suppressed anger, bursts of grief, desperate pill-popping, taking things out on the wrong people. She’s real enough that I worried about the consequences of her actions, from alienating her bright, smiley, surviving son (Ron Caldwell) to getting busted for murder. There’s a very uncomfortable moment when she goes to the funeral of one of the people she killed to find out who he was connected to, and sees the grieving mother. Worse, the lady ends up at their support group. They’re creating new members.
I really like Whigham, and by the way I rewatched THE BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS recently, and I don’t know if you remember but he has a fairly small part as a john that gets ripped off by the bad lieutenant and then rants about how well-connected he is and what a big mistake this is. Anyway, he keeps saying “ooooh yeah” in a funny way and it occurred to me this time that he was basing his character partly on Macho Man Randy Savage. So I thought you all should know.
Anyway, Whigham is really good here in that way he usually is. He’s gruff and cynical and seems more likely to catch these vigilantes than the killer who set them off, but you can still respect him because we see him see through the bullshit and disapprove. He has integrity.
So, it’s not the main point of the movie, but there’s a good illustration here for the people who have shown themselves not to understand what institutional racism is. “The people upstairs” suddenly pay more attention to their investigation after a white kid moonlighting as a drug dealer dies in one of these Lila & Eve confrontations. “How’s the Bradley Tipton case coming?” asks his partner, played by Andre Royo. Whigham seems offended that now they give a shit. Royo doesn’t care, he just wants an impressive case for his career. So a white guy can be a good guy, a black guy can be a bad guy, nobody involved needs to be a KKK member or intend anything bigoted, yet the system still works in such a way that it treats white people as more important than black people. That’s what “black lives matter” means, you silly heads. Not “black lives matter more than white ones, you racists” as some oddly defensive people seem to read it, but “this system needs to stop treating black lives as unimportant.”
I wish the resolution of the story of LILA & EVE was as interesting as all that. I started to hope there’d be some crazy shit where it turns out Eve isn’t even really a grieving mother. She’s just a psycho, or she’s manipulating Lila for her own purposes or something. But the real twist you start suspecting and hoping you’re gonna be wrong about, but you’re not. SPOILER: Eve doesn’t exist, she’s only in Lila’s head, Lila is actually doing all this shit. The FIGHT CLUB twist. The funny thing is there was a recent, quite good TV series I won’t name because it would be a spoiler to say that it did the same thing, with the same “oh no, I hope they’re not going where I think they’re going” sinking feeling stretching across multiple episodes. I guess that’s the statute of limitations on copping famous plot twists, then. We should have some “he was a ghost the whole time”s coming up then too. Oh well.
Director Charles Stone III did two movies I enjoyed, DRUMLINE and PAID IN FULL, plus a couple others and then some TV episodes. His last one before this was that TV movie CRAZYSEXYCOOL: THE TLC STORY. But he’s actually best known for creating and starring in the “Whassuuuppp” Budweiser commercials.
These days we hear an awful lot about needing more diverse representation both in front of and behind the camera in media. I absolutely agree and I think although it may seem overblown sometimes the constant vigilance and daily controversies actually might make some kind of a difference. But it’s frustrating, because it’s more complicated than just shaming every movie that has all white people in it. Here we have LILA & EVE, a movie centered around two women, one black and one Latina, from a black director. That’s what everybody says they’re looking for, right? So they made it and did anyone give a shit? If mostly just a guy who’s a little too into DTV and vigilante movies bothers to find out a movie existed it can’t be a very good business model. Movies are expensive.
Oh yeah, I just wanted it to exist, I wasn’t ever gonna support it with my money. See ya.
Lately the dirty looks are aimed at the Oscars, which Jada Pinkett Smith, Spike Lee and others have said they’re skipping because for the second year in a row all the acting nominees are white. I have to admit at first I fell into the trap of our tweets & headlines culture: seeing references to it, making kneejerk assumptions, not really understanding. Because Jada, your husband’s movie was not very well reviewed, and he already has twice as many nominations as Tom Hardy (two) and the same amount of wins as DiCaprio (zero). This just isn’t his year. And Spike, no way a weird movie like CHI-RAQ is gonna get nominations, and anyway it was criticized by more than one black writer as some bullshit that only white people would support. So it’s irrelevant in this argument.
But of course that’s not the issue here. Their arguments are correct and Spike at least is not even talking about his personal stake in the matter. His actual statement about it is very good (except for being written with every word capitalized for some reason). He acknowledges black Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs, telecast host Chris Rock and producer Reginald Hudlin, and that they gave him a special award this year (in part, it’s hard not to think, to make up for that bit of trivia that DRIVING MISS DAISY won best picture the year DO THE RIGHT THING wasn’t even nominated). But he personally can’t sit there and celebrate when he feels black actors are consistently being left out, and you can’t fault him for that.
Now it’s sad because interviewers are asking all the actors about it, and of course somebody’s gotta say something stupid. Offender #1 is best actress nominee for 45 YEARS Charlotte Rampling (ORCA), whose initial answer came off as unenlightened to put it mildly. But I have some sympathy for her because here she is, a great, accomplished actress in an industry that still treats women, especially mature women, poorly. And she had the rare opportunity of a meaty role for a 69 year old woman, did work she must’ve been proud of, and is being honored for it. And it’s implicit in these questions that maybe she didn’t deserve it, she just got it because it’s a racist award. If you’re in that position and you’re an old British lady who hasn’t had to put much thought into racial issues you won’t be at your most eloquent. So I don’t think it’s too charitable to accept her “clarification” as an accurate explanation of how she really feels.
(Did I bring Rampling up because she’s relevant or because I wanted to mention ORCA? We’ll never know.)
Anyway, the brouhaha about all this was a good thing because it already pushed Isaacs, in an attempt to save the reputation of the organization, to adopt new rules for the Academy next year, designed to shift the demographics of the voting body to something more representative of the world, and less of an entrenched old boys network. Academy members will be able to vote for ten years, but if they aren’t active during that decade they might lose the privilege unless they worked across three decades or were nominated for an Oscar.
(By the way when I say “the Academy” I’m talking about the Academy of Motion Picture Arts And Sciences, not the Police Academy movie series, which has always been pretty diverse.)
The sudden change has pissed off some members, and this Hollywood Reporter article is thought provoking because I think it does make some persuasive arguments painting this as ageism, and a way of abandoning our accomplished elders to appeal to the shitty tastes of our young “hoverboard” riding future idiocratic overlords.
But I’m haunted by that last story about Dolores Hart, who co-starred with Elvis in KING CREOLE and has been an Academy member since 1960 but has spent most of that time as a nun. It’s sad and I feel bad for her for apparently being pushed out, but then there’s the part about “She said she is not sure she’ll continue to watch films ‘if I have no way to offer a comment about them… Why would you sit for all of those hours if you have no say in anything?'”
And I mean no disrespect to the lady, but maybe if there are other 77 year old nuns who wouldn’t watch movies if they couldn’t vote on the Oscars then that could be the problem. Not the one about diversity, necessarily, but the one about how forever the Oscars have been too artistically timid and conservative. Every time a GOODFELLAS or a PULP FICTION or a (I’m afraid to say) MAD MAX: FURY ROAD doesn’t win we blame these mysterious old, conservative Academy members who supposedly dominate the awards. If that’s true then we gotta step on a few toes and then stop taking it for granted that the awards always suck. What if the Oscars, in addition to not being “so white,” were on the side of history more often than not? What if there were more UNFORGIVEN best pictures and less CRASHes?
But young people, when you take over, just promise me you won’t nominate a fuckin Vine or an iPhone app or something.
I think Isaacs is correct in her statement’s implication that the problem comes from the industry itself more than the particular awards, for not providing enough opportunity for actors of color to have good roles. The whiteness of the nominees would be more shocking if there was a longer list of performances that should’ve been nominated. Last year it was suspicious that SELMA director Ava DuVernay and star David Oyelowo weren’t nominated, and in my opinion it was crazy that nobody talked about Chadwick Boseman for GET ON UP. But I can’t get anybody to watch that movie anyway. They don’t know what they’re missing.
This year I’ve seen everybody pointing to STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON. When it was released all I heard about was understandable criticism of it not addressing Dre physically abusing women. Now we’re all letting that go so we can angry that it doesn’t get all the awards? I don’t know that that’s fair.
(And do we really want our cherished World’s Most Dangerous Group to get that kind of acceptance from the establishment? It’s surreal to be considering this question.)
CREED is a much stronger argument for a snub. It’s my second favorite movie of the year and I have been evangelical about it. But is it naive white privilege that makes me think it never had much of a chance not because of anything racial, but because it’s CREED? ROCKY won best picture but that was forty god damn years ago. How many straight sports movies have been Oscar contenders in recent decades? I don’t think anybody talked about it for II, III, IV, V or the actually-might-deserve-it ROCKY BALBOA. This is not the type of movie that gets nominations anymore, and if it was it wouldn’t help that it’s part 7. And as much as I absolutely believe Ryan Coogler deserved a nomination (along with his white but female cinematographer) it’s hard to get one of those. Even the president of white people Ben Affleck didn’t get one when his movie won best picture. It happens.
I guess what I’m saying is that even if we ever have a year where every nominee is black I bet you money they would still pick the cheesiest most middle-of-the-road of the bunch and not even nominate some amazing ones. Until we can improve the awards overall the real crime is not that CREED was snubbed but that there aren’t more movies like CREED to be snubbed.
p.s. Some have used Stallone’s best supporting actor nomination for CREED as further ammunition against Hollywood, since it’s a movie with a black director, writer and star but they nominated a white person for it. There was a really funny SNL skit about that too. Okay, I get it, but can we also acknowledge that the genius director Coogler wanted to make a movie about Rocky, convinced Stallone to do it, wrote the role, directed the performance? It would not exist without him and would not be so great without him, as could be said of many directors behind Oscar winning actors. Don’t tell me Tarantino doesn’t take some credit for Christoph Waltz’s improbable two supporting actor Oscars. I’m not saying the nomination absolves anything, but it’s not a bad thing either. Let’s not dismiss this as a well deserved honor for Coogler and the whole team along with Stallone who, yes, did a great job.
Furthermore, if you’re against the lack of opportunity in Hollywood then maybe don’t make a bad guy out of the white dude who handed the keys of his beloved series (previously written only by him and directed only by him and one other person) to a young black director and writer with only one small movie under their belts. He believed in Coogler enough to bring his most famous character back after a perfect ending and use him as a supporting character to Michael B. Jordan. Who else would do that?
So don’t take it out on him. I guarantee you he voted for Coogler and Jordan.
p.p.s. Sometimes I feel like I’m turning into Archie Bunker as I get older and the world evolves faster than my liberal sensibilities. I don’t want to be that so if I’m missing the point here please help me learn. Just be nice about it. We’re all friends here.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.