Mr Church

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This is based on a true friendship, reads the awkward title card at the beginning of the film. That friendship begins when one of the friends is sent to work for the family of the other. Marie (Natascha McElhone) is having an affair with a married man named Richard. When Richard drops dead, his will bequeaths the cooking services of Mr. Church (Murphy) to Marie and her wretched little brat of a daughter, Charlotte (Natalie Coughlin). Charlotte wants no part of Mr. Church or his food, going so far as to tell everyone in her school, We have a new cook and HES BLACK!!!, emphasizing the color for maximum shock value. Nobody gives a damn that Charlotte is throwing tantrums about Mr. Church, least of all Poppy (Madison Wolfe), Charlottes only friend, who is more than willing to eat his entrees.

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Henry Joseph Church could have been anything he wanted, Charlotte narrates in the opening scene. He chose to cook. The secret, he said, was jazz. We learn that Mr. Church has lots of secrets. Hes got secrets in his lemonade, in his grits and in his life. While he tells us the former two secrets, the latter one remains frustratingly unrevealed. Charlotte cant get a single detail from Mr. Church about what he does after he leaves her house. Even after years of raising her, he wont tell her any of his personal details, because if he does, the film cannot attempt to defend itself against the idea that Mr. Church is simply a Noble Negro with no autonomy of his own. His secrets prove his independence.

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One can only speculate whyEddie Murphywould choose to end his four-year hiatus from the big screen with the extremely misguided interracial drama Mr. Church. If this were an attempt to secure a second Oscar nomination after his well-deserved one for Dreamgirls, hes barking up the right tree. The Academy loves its servile Black people, and Mr. Church is directed byBruce Beresford, who seems to be addicted to this kind of character. After helming this, an episode of Roots and Best Picture-winner Driving Miss Daisy, Beresford should be forced to join Subservient Cinematic Negroes Anonymous and work through their 12-step program. Until then, viewers must yet again contend with a movie where a White character gushes about what Noble Negritude has done for them.

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ButSusan McMartins atrocious, offensive and cowardly script has no credible defense to employ. We never see Mr. Church with anyone but Charlotte, and the film is maddeningly vague about what hes doing off-screen when hes not with her. For example, when Charlotte moves in with Mr. Church, McMartin gives him daddy issues which manifest themselves whenever he comes in drunk after his visits to the mysterious Jellys Caf. Beresford doesnt even give Murphy screen time to visually enact these verbal tirades against his invisible dad; we see Charlotte listening to them in her room instead.

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Jellys Caf had a reputation, Charlotte tells us, which may be why Mr. Church is so afraid to mention he goes there. But what is that reputation? We never find out. Ive got a theory that makes the movie even more offensive if Im right (spoiler alert for the rest of this paragraph). On the surface, Jellys Caf looks like an after-hours jazz club. It would be absurd if Mr. Churchs big, unmentionable secret is that he plays piano there, especially considering that the one personal detail he mentions in the film is that hes a musician (plus, he plays piano for Charlotte in several scenes). I think Jellys Caf is a gay establishment, and Mr. Churchs homosexuality is the big, scary Thing That Must Not Be Named. (At one point, Mr. Church drunkenly screams out to his dad Dont call me a fag! and Why did you put me out?!) So not only does Mr. Church put a Black character in a retro role better suited for a film made in 1957, it does the same thing to a homosexual one.

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However, Marie manages to keep her cancer at bay for over six years before she gives up the ghost. This allows Charlotte to mature into a still-bratty, graduating high school senior played byBritt Robertson. Robertson narrates Mr. Church in long, hyperbolic passages that tell rather than show. Her words serve as the only proof of the close bond she has with Mr. Church, making their friendship ring completely hollow. Mr. Church does all the work in this relationship: He puts up with her disrespect when shes a kid; he pays for her college education AND everything that transpires for the 5-1/2 extra years Marie stays alive; he even takes Charlotte in when she comes back from college pregnant. In return, Charlotte says nice things about Mr. Church on the soundtrack but doesnt do squat for him on the screen until its too late. Watching this one-sided interaction, you almost wish Murphy had taken a page from his comedy concert Eddie Murphy Raw and asked Charlotte, what have you done for me lately?!

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Most people over the age of 12 will check out from the plot midway and start hoping for a cinematic vacation of their own.

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Mr Church

Charlotte gives her mother a hard time about Mr. Church, not knowing that Marie is secretly dying of breast cancer. Mr. Church is tasked to be around until Marie joins Richard in the great, adulterous Beyond. Afterwards, Mr. Church will go on his merry way and Charlotte will probably go to an orphanage. Mr. Churchs stipend from Richard only covers six months of food for his charges, which coincides with the amount of time Marie has left. He is promised a lifetime salary if he does this short-term favor.

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Either way, this film is a stunning example of how wrong-headed filmmakers can be regarding what is acceptable for todays audiences. Did anyone, Murphy included, stop to consider how this story of Mr. Churchs sacrifice would play to more enlightened viewers? Sure, we get the letter at the end that explains (in voiceover) what Mr. Church thinks he received from this arrangement, but wouldnt it have been nice to have seen it play out between Murphy and Robinson, from both their perspectives instead of from just her characters? If nothing else, Murphy is committed to the role, to the point where I wish theyd at least given him a sense of humor. That his onscreen persona has been completely neutered is the biggest sin of all in Mr. Church.

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