Last month, Film Twitter went all a-twitter when it was revealed that this year’s Sundance Film Festival secret screening was comedian Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, Get Out (he also wrote the original screenplay). Early buzz was effusive, a promising reception after a work-in-progress Keanu, which he co-wrote, failed to blow audiences away at SXSW last year.
The team at Universal was smart to launch the film, the story of a young black photographer whose weekend visit to meet his white girlfriend’s family goes terribly wrong, at the January festival in advance of a February theatrical release. In doing so, they’ve carved out a fairly rare slice of positive momentum in an otherwise barren release slate, and when so many audiences are distracted by finishing up their Oscars viewing.
The crafty release strategy is helped, of course, by the fact that Get Out is a really, really great film. Daniel Kaluuya (Sicario) stars as Chris Washington, an unassuming photographer living in the city and dating girl-next-door Rose Armitage (Allison Williams in what I hear is her first film role, though given all that Girls exposure, you know who she is). The movie, a tightly-scripted hour and forty minutes of social commentary wrapped up in of-the-moment sensibility, opens as Rose and Chris are heading out to visit her parents at their secluded country estate. The two have a comfortable rapport, a young couple newly in love; they know each other’s friends, for example, but until he asks her directly, Chris isn’t sure if Rose’s parents know she’s bringing a black guy home.
Don’t worry, Rose assures him. If he could have, her dad (a gracefully aged Bradley Whitford, he of The West Wing fame) would’ve voted for Obama for a third time. (Like I said: of the moment.)
It’s not long after they arrive that Chris starts to feel something is off; the help – a field-hand type groundskeeper and perfectly-coiffed domestic minder – are both young, black and weirdly attentive yet socially awkward. His cell phone keeps being mysteriously disconnected from his charger, as though someone is trying to shut down his access to communication. Dinner that first night gets strange fast when Rose’s douche of a brother (Caleb Landry Jones) makes a comment about Chris’s “genetic makeup” and her psychologist mom (Catherine Keener at her disturbing best) explains the hypnosis practice she’s developed to help people stop smoking. Maybe Chris – who can’t kick the habit – would like to give it a whirl?
None of it, we discern, is anything Chris can’t handle. Peele’s point, of course, is to present these microagressions, small but significant, as they are all too commonly found in the real world: absolutely there, and absolutely meant to be ignored if we’re all supposed to get along in the promise of a post-Obama America.
The plot kicks into high gear when, the next day, the Armitages host an annual garden party; Rose introduces Chris to a succession of white, upper-middle-class, middle-aged couples who make comments about his build and how dark skin is “fashionable.” He grins and bears it for the sake of the woman he loves, relaying the absurdity of it all to his best friend Rod (Lil Rel Howrey), whose back in the city dog-sitting for Chris.
To reveal more about what happens from here would be unfair; suffice it to say that the Armitages are not what they seem, and Chris, if he’s not careful, will be their latest victim.
As is necessary in the movies, Peele raises the stakes in Get Out to seemingly outlandish levels in order to make his point. We wouldn’t pay much attention, after all, if the worst that happens is Chris and Rose break up. Hypnotism, kidnapping, body-snatching, rogue neurosurgery, death by taxidermied buck head; they’re all in there, and even as the crazy escalates, it’s impossible not to cheer for Chris and Rod, and it’s impossible not to appreciate the storytelling talent it takes to dish up such a relevant production in such an entertaining way. It wouldn’t be inconceivable to recommend seeing Get Out alongside I Am Not Your Negro, so well do they both shine a light on race relations in America.
In the end, Get Out succeeds on every level: a solid script delivers on a fresh, contemporary premise; the cast achieves the perfect balance of chill-meets-creepy; the score is on point at every beat – this is a horror movie, after all – without overdoing it. Oh, and it’s funny. Honestly, effortlessly funny, embracing the silliness of the whole thing without losing a single note of the poignancy.
Yes, you read that right. Comedian Jordan Peele, half of the Key and Peele comedy duo famous for their goofy sketches and impersonations, delivers a poignant, smart, sharp social critique on race relations in 2017 by way of a funny, witty, original thriller that, I promise, is worth seeing in as full a theater as you can find.
Get Out – writer/dir Jordan Peele. Starring Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherin Keener. Opens in Chicago Friday, Feb. 24. Official Site
Passes the Bechdel Test: No
Passes the DuVernay Test: Yes