Verdict: Enjoyable if you don’t look too closely
A great story back in the day, with great acting but very ideology-based.
Review [SPOILER ALERT]
Joey Drayton (Katharine Houghton) comes back from her vacation in Hawaii with fiancée, John Prentice (Sidney Poitier) who not only is 14 years older, but is also an African-American man. She brings him to meet her parents Matt (Spencer Tracy) and Christina (Katharine Hepburn) and needless to say, they are both shocked. John talks to them in private, and tells them the marriage will only go through if they both agree to it. As the night goes on, Joey’s father is unable to accept the union, and John’s parents (played by Beah Richards and Roy Glenn) too get a surprise when they come over for dinner. Tillie (Isabel Sanford) the Drayton’s maid plays a stereotypical African-American female character in which she is there for comedic sense. Directed by Stanley Kramer.
This is my first time watching this and I enjoyed it at first, but after analysing it for my film theory class, I don’t enjoy it as much anymore. While it did make breakthroughs in cinema at the time it came out, it still follows and reinforces the white patriarchal ideology.
John has to be this perfect man, because if he was anything less there would be fault in him and that would make people think of how he might be ‘kidnapping’ or ‘tricking’ Joey into marrying him. Then John leaves the decision of the union in the palm of Joey’s parents’ hands, giving the whites the superiority that is already evident in the society. Adding to that, John is the ‘man’, and he is the only one concerned about the problems their union will bring, as he is the caretaker in the couple. Joey being the ‘woman’ is not concerned, and perhaps also because she is white she does not need to be concerned because things will be taken care of for her. There are many more such examples, but the main thing that makes this movie all go downhill, is the ending, when Matt (Joey’s father) silences everyone and tells them how he went through the process of opposing the union to listening to everyone-else’s opinion, and finally to his conclusion (based on the mothers’ influence), that all that matters is how much they feel for each other. But he comes to this conclusion like he came up with the whole idea by himself.
I could go on longer, but let’s move on.
Oh wait, there’s one more. John says to his father, “You think of yourself as a coloured man, I just think of myself as a man.” Reinforcing hetero-normativity much? It would have been better to say “I think of myself as a human“. But I don’t blame them much for that ‘mistake’, even in today’s world we reinforce this compulsive heterosexuality.
The acting was pretty great considering that Spencer Tracy was deathly ill (he passed away 17 days after the movie wrapped). Katherine Hepburn and her niece Katharine Houghton, played their parts well enough, though Hepburn was more of a presence and had a stronger character. Not much is actually known about Houghton’s character except that she was always a happy child. This too causes me to wonder what Joey and John have in common that they could be so in love. Sidney Poitier was pretty convincing in his character, though I noticed that he might have had a bit of a lisp, and I’m not sure if that was how he actually spoke or how his character spoke and I’m hoping its the former. If it was the latter…that just emphasizes the ideology.
I read that this film helped other films that included African-Americans, to be main-streamed into the cinema culture, and I am glad that it had a positive impact. But still, it follows and reinforces the white patriarchal ideology so much so, that once I know of it, I can’t forget it.
PROS: Acting, story
CONS: Ideology based = gender, sexuality, race, stereotypical characters
I give this a 4/10.
Have you seen Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Rate it out of 5 stars above or leave a comment below!