Livin' Large! (1991) / Comedy
MPAA Rated: R for language and sexual humor
Running Time: 96 min.
Cast: Terrence "T.C." Carson, Blanche Baker, Lisa Arrindell, Nathaniel "Afrika" Hall, Julia Campbell, Bernie McInerney, Loretta Divine, The Jungle Brothers (cameo)
Director: Michael Schultz
Screenplay: William Mosley-Payne
T.C. Carson (U-571, Final Destination 2) plays Dexter Jackson, a young African-American laundry employee with aspirations of one day being a prominent news reporter for the local television station in Atlanta. When one of local station's finest reporters is shot and killed by a sniper, Dexter grabs the microphone and takes over, getting the scoop and becoming a local celebrity. The news station's ratings-hungry producer, Kate (Baker, French Postcards), seizes on the opportunity to capitalize on Dexter's newfound celebrity status, so she hires him as a field reporter. However, Dexter wants to cover news stories that hit close to home, but Kate wants to appeal to a broader viewing audience, changing Dexter's appearance and getting him to cover more scandalous stories, many of them exposing his family and friends in his home area for his own purposes. Dexter becomes an overnight sensation, but at the price of giving up who he is and where he came from.
Livin' Large! continues a certain trend in films geared toward African-Americans, with highly politicized messages of self-identity and awareness, which was riding a wave in the music (residing in hip-hop, primarily) and movies of the time. Unfortunately, for every smart film like Do the Right Thing and Boyz N the Hood, there were just as many that injected themes just to have them, creating a perception of promoting positivity, but in reality, reinforcing stereotypes and sentiments that seemed to foster a larger racial divide.
At the time of its release, Livin' Large! sought to advance pro-Black issues in a broadly comedic package, but many viewers felt that the film espoused too many contrary sentiments. Some thought it insensitive to Caucasians, depicting the white characters in the film as poor dancers, generally unhip, and racist underneath. On the other side of the spectrum, some also thought it contained unintentional anti-Black professional sentiments, depicting successful African-Americans in the media and business as sell-outs and Oreos, as if Black people are supposed to speak broken English and never dress in a suit and tie, or they aren't really representing.
For purposes of this review, I will eschew some of the overlying racial elements of the film in terms of whether or not some may find the messages offensive; it's all in the sensitivity and mind of the beholder. What I can't overlook, however, is that fact that Livin' Large! isn't particularly clever or funny enough to be called a truly successful comedy, with broad and silly humor without a clever balance, dishing out old jokes and caricatures in a way that never really evokes chuckles or stimulates serious discussion.
At its core, Livin' Large! is a typical formula story about someone selling out their beliefs in order to get ratings. What sets the film apart happens to be a more general feeling about successful African-American celebrities that they "sell out" in order to get ahead in the media and entertainment industries, giving up on their roots and adapting more homogenized personas to mask over their perceived "Blackness". It's certainly an intriguing and thought-provoking concept for a film, but such ideas go completely to waste in this very pedestrian outing that reaches lower than it should, going for easy laughs rather than mind-opening messages that such subject matter clearly deserves.
Livin' Large! smacks of the kind of film that started with a kernel of genuine inspiration and importance, but once the studios and script handlers got their "let's turn this into something marketable" hands on it, it was as dumbed down and washed out as could be to play for broader audiences. Ironic, given the main theme of not selling out for mass appeal.
©2006 Vince Leo