Written and Directed by Coke Daniels.
Starring Taryn Manning, Cory Hardrict, Ava Ann Gale, Gregory Alan Williams, Dawn Halfkenny, Brandon Sklenar, Hunter Bodine, Mary Christina Brown, Betsy Landin, Lorenzo Cromwell, Jaxon McHan, Roger Dorman, Veronika Bozeman, and Norah Elin Murphy.
A racist woman takes it as a personal mission to displace the new Black family that just moved into the neighborhood, but they won’t back down without a fight.
Of all the memes to lazily spin into a movie, a Karen (generally a middle-aged racist white woman not afraid to demand the presence of a manager whenever slightly inconvenienced) is probably one of the only tantalizing choices. There’s an opportunity for social commentary and humor to be distilled into an entertaining package. Unfortunately, writer/director Coke Daniels doesn’t have a clue what to do here, starting and stopping subplots from scene to scene without ever successfully tapping into the potential of an on-screen Karen. There are many negatives to point out here, but above all else, it’s shocking how simply boring Karen is.
Proud Black couple Malik and Imani (Cory Hardrict and Jasmine Burke, respectively) have just moved into a predominantly white suburban neighborhood (they want to be close to Atlanta but also within reasonable distance for Malik to get to work running his community center), which just happens to be the home next to Karen Drexler (Taryn Manning, who fails to bring the nastiness of this character to life in terms of energy or characterization). The plot is simple: Karen is racist, doesn’t want to share the area with Malik and Imani, and will stop at nothing to drive them away, including getting her equally racist police officer brother Mike (Roger Dorman) involved. The targeted Black lovers seek assistance from a civil rights attorney played by Gregory Alan Williams in retaliation.
Coke Daniels has no clear vision of what to do with that concept, as one minute Karen will go from seemingly trying to seduce Malik (presumably to break them up), sticking her nose into their lives (ammunition to use against them considering she is the president of the HOA), hunkering down on security cameras, getting Black patrons kicked out of restaurants, to faking being in danger when encountering other Black residents. If you’re hoping for any of those scenes to, at the very least, be amusing or function as a sharp parody, look elsewhere. Again, it cannot be overstated just how lifeless all of this is. And yes, that also applies to the scene where Karen interrupts a house party to play the “all lives matter” card.
What’s more frustrating is that the central Black characters are also terribly written, frequently talking about Black pride and accomplishments but with the mannerisms and delivery of androids. Imani calls Malik her woke warrior at one point, which feels like dialogue ripped from social media. For a movie that takes a dark third-act turn (white supremacist cops are involved, what else did you expect), the lived-in believability of these characters to justify such extremities is missing. In the end, it’s shallow, exploitative garbage with nothing to say, which is nothing better than the piece of shit preceding two-thirds attempt at parody.
More confusing, Coke Daniels decides to follow Karen for such extended lengths, it begins to feel as if there is some mixed messaging where he does see the character as a tragic antihero. There’s an attempt to explain why Karen is racist (the lamest reasoning imaginable and nowhere near as rattling as a broken real-life Liam Neeson once struggling with Black hatred) and enough of her perspective in a serious context to once again question why. The film is also confused about place and time, as characters mention the ongoing global health crisis, yet no one in the movie wears a mask anywhere.
There’s one decent scene in Karen that sees Imani encountering Karen’s daughter outside one morning, who shares none of her mom’s racist tendencies and offers to help put the trash back in the bin (I will give you one guess who knocked it over). While doing this, they quickly develop a bond as the elementary school-aged daughter mentions that she likes a boy but is terrified to tell her mom because he happens to be Black. The thoughts of what these children have to endure and listen to (Karen also has a teenage son that plays basketball, but each of them is only seen once because this movie is a dumpster fire that doesn’t know what it wants to do) living with such a hateful woman are the closest the film comes to engaging. That’s also only two minutes out of 90. Karen is a colossal waste of time, and you don’t need a manager to tell you that.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com