Every once in a while you come across a small indie gem tucked away in the dark corners of Netflix and it satisfies your entertainment craving for something different. Unfortunately, Little Boxes is not that film.
Tell me if you've heard this one before....an interracial family moves from the big city and struggles to find footing in white bread suburbia. Little Boxes so desperately wants us to think it's on the cutting edge of social commentary, but it lingers on the fringes, like that drunk friend that starts a fight and promptly hides behind bigger friends when push comes to shove. Had this been presented as strictly satire (it has some funny parts), I would have still dinged it for its lazy approach, but at least I would have understood the point. Instead, the film is a bit to self-serious, interested in bringing up deeper conversations, but never really wanting to engage in those conversations. In 2017, we get it. Racial injustices exist. They are real. So, if you're going to bring them up, at least be prepared to add something new to the conversation.
Gina instantly hits it off with some of her peers from work and takes to afternoon constitutionals, while Mack and Clark are essentially left to their own devices to navigate this new environment. As you might predict, casual racism is the concept on which writer Annie Howell and director Rob Meyer hang their hats. The white people are shocked to find out that Mack is a writer and doesn't particularly enjoy mainstream rap. Why, if you "close your eyes, you can't even tell he's Black." Poor Clark doesn't fare much better. He hangs out with a couple of rich, spoiled neighbor girls who are excited to have him along because, "they needed a Black kid."
These are themes worth exploring in our current social culture. Instead of pushing the issue- engaging these characters in meaningful dialogue- all we really get is Black people rolling their eyes at the silly, uneducated White people. The only thing missing was the laugh track. Towards the very end, the one time when the racial theme bubbles up to the surface and things get a bit more tense, it feels too little too late. Any good will the filmmakers intended towards this end was blown at least a half hour earlier.
Another struggle for me was trying to reconcile that Gina and Mack were legitimate partners. Both good actors in their own right, Lynskey and Ellis have no chemistry together on camera. Roommates, yes. Husband and wife, not so much. Part of this might be the reluctance of the story to engage in the deeper conversation needed in a film like this, and the actors seem distanced as a result. When each character is examined separately, outside of the family context, they fare much better and are believable as people.
Little Boxes feels like a missed opportunity to provide a deeper examination of the Black experience in the midst of middle class white America. It's something that films like Dear White People and Get Out manage to pull off brilliantly, where the audience barely notices its happening. Instead, this film just exists, with barely anything to say that hasn't been said countless times.
2 out of 5