Culture

“42” a limp tribute

42

42

dir. Brian Helgeland

Release Date: Apr 12, 13

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A List of Essential Bullet Points For Any Biopic About U.S. Racism, by Dominick Mayer

1) A lead who looks strikingly like the real-life figure being portrayed, but with just a little bit more sex appeal. For example, Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson. His performance can be solid, but mustn’t be too unremarkable.

2) If the lead is male, he will have a hyper-supportive wife (Nicole Beharie) who constantly reminds the historical figure that he has the power to become a historical figure, in case the audience forgets the plot of the film they paid to see. (If the protagonist is female, everybody must talk about how being a woman without a man is making their life exponentially harder.)

3) Since biopic status is typically only granted to grand gestures, and not the progress of protest and evolution of racial discourse over a long span of time, the film will ultimately center less primarily on the racism itself than it will on that gesture that, by the film’s approach, singlehandedly taught people how to not be racist.

4) Based off #3, the film will also conduct itself as though racism is no longer a problem once the credits roll. (See also: Blind Side, The.)

5) A series of early sequences will pick up on the protagonist’s life not when their life actually began, but when their story became one more interesting to tell secondhand. If your film is about baseball legend Jackie Robinson, half of the film will be about the rich white men who gave him the opportunity, and the other half will be about all the dynamic circus catches Robinson could make on the field/how racism totally bummed him out.

6) There must be a tough yet loving white character (typically male) who will give the central figure the courage to continue on when their spirit fails, and teach them how to deal with the crowds. And remind them often about how they have to control their temper, and not get angry, and not explode, and control their temper, and get irate at reporters or crowds, and control their temper. Because the historical hero might not know what to do otherwise. If you can get Harrison Ford, make sure you ask him to do his best impression of Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino/real life after about 1988.

7a) There must be at least one child who speaks exclusively in expository dialogue about how inspired they are by the historical figure in question. Bonus points if this child also sounds like a psychic, predicting the exact future that the filmmakers know about in hindsight.

7b) There must be at least one child who says something brutally racist, in order to communicate the ignorance passed down through generations during the historical period being depicted.

8 ) There must be at least one character who immediately sides with the protagonist. (If the film gets too heavy at a point, you may use this character for an out-of-nowhere gay panic joke, just to lighten the mood.) Also, at least one character must start the movie as a terrible racist, and learn his lesson by film’s end. If an entire stadium full of the latter can be managed, even better.

9) The earlier an era the director (Brian Helgeland) is depicting, the more the period-specific set design must be prominently featured. No modern trick shots, either; the whole thing must look like old-timey melodrama, because this is serious business being discussed. The photography has to be just good enough that the film doesn’t start to feel like a total waste of time.

10) The more inspiring a moment the director is depicting, the more maudlin the orchestral music must get, as people might not know that they are watching Profound Moments Of Social Change if they are not frequently reminded.

11) Because the film is about the historical tradition of real-life racism, the MPAA rating system need not apply. The film can thus employ as many antiquated racial slurs as it can possibly fit into a PG-13, because the ugliness of the N-word and its many conjugations are a quick and easy way to invest an audience in a movie that would otherwise deserve a series of indifferent shrugs.

12) If the audience has not yet noticed that this is a film about how racist the world formerly was, have a rival coach (Alan Tudyk) spend about 10-12 minutes of screen time screaming racial slurs. Have this be essentially the only dialogue during this stretch. If the audience is not uncomfortably staring at itself during this scene, add more to flavor until lessons of some indeterminate kind have been imparted.

13) Above all else, the film must approach both its delicate subject matter and the real-life story it focuses on with all the power and depth of a Wikipedia entry, to such a point where the audience would be better served reading said entry than paying $11 to see the film. After all, this is not the time for biography; rather, it is the time for a by-the-numbers production that says nothing new and preys on the most basic sympathies imaginable.

(Extra tip: An end-credit sequence in the style of Animal House reminding everybody what all the important figures in the film went on to accomplish in real life is always a plus. Maybe work in a joke about the film’s villains, to send the audience home on a light note.)