Showtime's Good Fences
has a lot going for it — including high-caliber on- and off-screen talent — but this original movie about a black family's American dream-turned-nightmare never quite comes together.
The movie opens in 1972 with the song "I Can See Clearly Now" – ironic, since Tom and Mabel Spader (Danny Glover and Whoopi Goldberg) don't see that in making it, they're losing their identities.
Goldberg and Glover reunite as co-stars for the first time since The Color Purple
(1985); they serve as Fences
co-producers as well. Executive producers Spike Lee and Sam Kitt and director Ernest Dickerson are longtime film collaborators, while writer Trey Ellis also penned The Tuskegee Airmen.
But that all-star creative team seemingly couldn't agree on what this admittedly "politically incorrect" film should be.
starts as a family drama. Tom wins a high-profile case for his law firm, but an upset Mabel learns from a TV newscast that he's defending a doctor-slash-slumlord on arson and manslaughter charges — with a black teenager the victim.
The win enables Tom to attain his dream: Moving from a nice, mixed middle-class town to a huge white mansion in posh, all-white Greenwich, Conn. The movie shifts, too, becoming a lighthearted "dramedy," with some gratuitous sex scenes tossed in.
The Spaders' new neighbor mistakenly thinks Mabel is the newcomers' maid. Increasingly uncomfortable, Mabel starts coping by popping pills and drinking.
When Ruth Crisp — a loud black woman who's just won the lottery – moves in next door, Tom becomes incensed. Named to the state Supreme Court, he fears the community will blame him for forming a "beachhead [for a] black invasion." Though white folks are portrayed here as dim-witted and racist, Tom emerges as the biggest – using the "N" word to describe his new neighbors.
finally veers into tragedy. When Ruth suddenly bids for a second house on the block, Tom takes steps to protect his community. A flashback to his near-lynching in 1950s Illinois finally explains his nightmares — but not his drastic actions.
Ultimately, Mabel realizes she has much in common with Ruth and regains her own identity.
Good Fences bows Feb. 2 at 8 p.m. on Showtime.
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