Lowdown: Family and friends need to deal with the upcoming marriage of a black/white couple.
Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (GWCtD) may be a film from 1967, but it sure as hell relevant more than forty years later.
Often feeling more like a play than a film, GWCtD excels in its simple and very extreme setup. Essentially, what we have on our hands is a black guy (Sidney Poitier) and a young white woman who fell in love ten days ago and decided they want to get married. We are introduced to them taking a taxi to the woman parents’ San Francisco home; the taxi ride features a white driver who is less than excited with the kissing taking place on the backseat, nor is he excited with carrying Poitier’s suitcases.
Premises established, the film follows the way the idea of this mixed races’ couple is introduced to the woman’s parents. Taking it in turns, these are the amazingly excellent Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy (about whom I can say that every performance of his I get to encounter knocks me off my sofa with its sheer quality).
The plot thickens further, but not by much. In addition to the woman’s parents additional stakeholders are challenged to come to terms with the marriage: the parents’ black maid, friends, and a priest that joins the party to provide religion’s token point of view on the matter. Oh, and then we have the case of the surprise dinner guests…
What I find particularly clever about GWCtD is the setup. The black guy is not just a “guy”; he’s Nobel Peace Prize material, the best guy of any race you could ever find - totally faultless. The parents are not your average parents: they live in liberal San Francisco, they’re rich, the father runs a paper advocating liberal agendas, and the pair is famous for their liberal preaching. In short, there should not be an easier case of an interracial marriage than this one, yet all stakeholders have their problems of accepting the marriage. All of this allows GWCtD to tackle those problems from the most extreme starting point. And it goes even further by presenting us with additional interracial encounters, such as when Tracy’s character bumps into a car driven by a black guy. It’s all very elegantly designed to deliver the message.
As cleverly designed as it is, and as fine as the acting is, I am of the opinion that it is the film’s relevancy that makes it so good. For example, I am of the opinion that a lot of the recent antagonism towards Tiger Woods is a direct result of him being married to a white woman, which – despite all the rest of the advances done as far as the acceptance of blacks is concerned – is still pretty much a taboo in American society. How many other films can you name that feature blacks married to whites? Throw in the natural conservatism that comes with the rich dudes dominating the world of gold and you can get some sort of an appreciation for the steep mountain Woods needs to climb.
Yet with all due respect to Woods, my personal affairs take precedence. As someone who is in an interracial marriage himself (albeit one with a significantly lesser pigmentation problem), I have encountered similar racism and bigotry first hand from the closest quarters of my family. It took place before my marriage and it took place around the birth of my son (circumcision/christening, anyone?); it even takes place every time my parents or my parents in law expose their outdated (and totally unfounded) views on matters of race. It makes me sick, and it puts a lot of pressure on me as I need to navigate through life’s more important challenges.
Thus, in a similar way to what Clint Eastwood had achieved before with Changeling, the sense of identification I had after watching Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner was so strong I cannot not stop thinking of the film.
Best scene: The numerous contenders to this title are outmatched by Tracy’s touching performance as he gives his speech to his extended family at the film’s ending, concluding the turnaround the film suggests we all take.
Overall: Touching, well made, entertaining and relevant. 5 out of 5 stars material.