This smart college comedy can be uneven at times but maturely addresses the emotional impact of racial discrimination in a frank and meaningful manner.
This review of the Amazon original film Emergency (2022) does not contain spoilers.
Racism is unquestionably one of the most potent hot topics of our time, a discussion which you would think has absolutely no place in a college comedy, especially one that riffs on Superbad and other ‘one crazy night’ films of that caliber. Yet Emergency bucks the trend in this overcrowded marketplace, bringing a mature and authentic take on the Black Lives Matter conversation. This vital racial message and an endearing exploration of friendship are set against the backdrop of an alcohol-fuelled bender that takes place over the course of one eventful night. This smart satire can be uneven at times, but works more often than not.
Director Carey Williams and writer K.D. Davila adapt their 2018 short film into a feature length, focusing on best friends Sean and Kunle as they plan a Legendary Tour, attempting to drink at seven separate parties in one unforgettable night. Streetwise Sean has acquired the passes for each unique frat party and sketches out a plan for the night on a whiteboard. It reminded me of The World’s End, where Simon Pegg’s character had the pub crawl meticulously mapped out on a piece of folded up paper, which in both films helps to build a sense of anticipation. These college kids are close to graduating and wish for one last hurrah, hoping to get a plaque on the Black Student Union’s Hall of Firsts wall. The excitement is palpable as these two friends head home for some pre-drinking antics.
If you are getting strong Superbad vibes then you are not alone. The awkward geek Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) has been accepted at Princeton (mirroring Michael Cera’s character), but is keeping this a secret from the rebellious, vaping Sean, played by RJ Cyler (Me and Earl and the Dying Girl). They also have an even-geekier third wheeler in their posse, with Carlos filling the McLovin gap. Sean doesn’t want Carlos ruining their night with his uncool fanny pack and unhealthy granola bar obsession, so he isn’t given any passes. The friends return home to find an unconscious, white girl on their living room floor. Carlos, who is busy gaming, is unaware of this vomiting anomaly and is just as surprised to find her passed out in a pool of her own sick.
This cunning hook fulfills two very important roles early on in Emergency, firstly providing some undeniable tension to proceedings and secondly opening the movie up to address racial motifs. Kunle wants to phone 911 and get this stranger straight to hospital, but Sean has over ideas. He believes they’ll be shot and arrested just because of the way this scene could be perceived. Two black guys with an underage, comatose white girl in their house. It’s a perfect setup that allows this film to soar in the first half of its running time. The stress-inducing potential for this likeable trio to be wrongly arrested makes for a tantalizing thriller and the filmmakers bleed this narrative dry.
The trio decide to drive the stranger, who they refer to as Goldilocks, to the hospital, where she can be safely dropped off without them being questioned. What follows is an elaborate and often hilarious journey through differing neighborhoods and ever-spiraling situations. Tackling political and racial issues with humor and heart. Emergency doesn’t say whether racism is improving or worsening in modern day America, however, the movie shows how this discrimination affects the victims. Both Kunle and Sean are traumatized by the events that transpire in the film’s final third, adding a powerful sentiment.
Emergency doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it enlightens viewers on the emotional impact of this discrimination, addressing racial issues in a frank and meaningful way. The comedy caper aspects to this satire are entertaining and memorable, but it’s the more serious side to this movie that rightfully deserves debate. Hopefully Williams and Davila continue to push the envelope in their future work.
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