An uneven mix of comedy and social commentary
College is hard enough thanks to the endless amount of coursework, hazing rituals, and the continual attempts to fit in that students have to deal with. But for the student protagonists at the heart of this new movie, there is more to worry about than the academic and social aspects of their college life when they find an underaged white girl passed out drunk in their living room.
They understandably assume calling the police is the right thing to do rather than removing the girl themselves. After all, the last thing they want to be accused of is laying their hands on her, especially in this age of sexual abuse scandals that are commonplace around colleges within the US.
But for straight-A med student Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) and his two slacker friends Sean (RJ Cyler) and Carlos (Sebastian Chacon), calling the police is problematic because of their skin colour. Will they be accused of a crime anyway, even though they have done nothing wrong? This is what goes through their mind and who can blame them. As we all know, the police are not always honourable when it comes to the treatment of people within the Black community.
Just what are they supposed to do? One of their options is to drop the girl’s unconscious body outside a nearby frat party as they assume that is where she has come from. But by doing that, there is the very real danger that their actions could be caught on somebody’s phone. Another option is to take her to a hospital but they think this might be problematic too as onlookers might suspect they have done something wrong, even though they haven’t.
In a perfect world, the lads wouldn’t have to deliberate over the right thing to do. But as they have grown up in a society that is thick with racism, the answer to their quandary is not that straightforward. Eventually, they do decide to drive her to the nearby hospital. But as can be expected, things go from bad to worse after they put her in their car and begin their mission to safely deposit her body.
This feature-length adaptation of a 2018 short is as much a comedy as it is a racial drama as many of the scenes within the movie are played for laughs. The boys fire out some witty one-liners when they interact with one another and a lot of humour is milked from some of their predicaments. This helps to balance out the bleaker aspects of the story, such as the very real fear the students have of being shot down and killed if the police catch up with them.
While the story largely concentrates on Kunle and his friends, we also get to meet Maddie (Sabrina Carpenter), who is the drunk girl’s sister. She goes on a journey of her own as she tries to locate her sibling using the tracker on her phone and as can be expected, she eventually crosses paths with the hapless boys who are doing all that they can to dig themselves out of trouble. She goes on the attack, as any sister would, but this backfires in a comical fashion.
The movie is an unusual one as it goes from the horrors of paranoid panic one moment to a scene of comedy the next. We have seen its likes in movies before, such as 2018’s Blindspotting which blended situational humour with racial drama, but in Emergency, this mash-up of genres doesn’t work quite so well.
This might be down to the screenplay which rushes our protagonists from one scene to the next, giving us little time to consider the humour or the horror of their plight. Or it might be because the light-hearted antics of the students seem out of place in what we assume is more of a social commentary than a Superbad-style comedy.
Despite this imbalance, there is a lot to enjoy. Some of the gags are laugh-out-loud funny and the trio at the core of the movie are fun to spend time with. They have great chemistry together, despite their different backgrounds, and the actors who portray them do a fine job teasing out each of their characters’ idiosyncrasies.
The movie also does a good job of drawing us into the boys’ panic. Regardless of our own skin colour, we all know that life is rarely safe for Black people in situations that involve the police. The fact that they are paranoid about the law before they even have a run-in with them is sad enough and it’s sadder when we realise that this is reflective of the many people out there who have been affected by the ignorant prejudices of the justice system.
As such, Emergency is quite stressful at times so perhaps we should be thankful that there is a lot of humour to break up the tension. Life can be as much a comedy as it can a tragedy, after all, and perhaps this is the point that director Carey Williams is trying to make with his movie. It’s overlong and unevenly plotted but this is still a decent watch if you can sift through the comedy to understand the powerful message within.
Read More: Emergency Ending Explained
Verdict - 6.5/10