Rocky Road

2001, Movie, NR, 90 mins


A young, interracial Los Angeles couple faces prejudice from all sides in this well-intentioned independent drama whose creators — real-life couple Geoff Cunningham (writer/director) and Nicole A. Smith (producer/star) — know their subject intimately. Ambitious, 25-year-old Talia (Nicole A. Smith) is the oldest child of Barbados-born Yvonne and Michael Jones (Valeri Ross, Robert Wisdom), who appear to have achieved the American dream: Three attractive, intelligent children, successful careers and a beautiful home. But their kids feel torn between their West Indian heritage and American upbringing, and all-too-regularly feel the sting of racial prejudice. Talia's boyfriend, socially conscious John (Will Wallace), is the only child of Bill Johnson (Wolf Muser), a police officer, and his stay-at-home wife, Jane (Royce Herron); John wants to work in public service, and is doing temp jobs to pay the rent. Although Talia and John have been dating for more than a year, neither has met the other's family. Talia's first dinner with the Johnsons is cut short when John and his dad get into a fight. Things go a bit better at Talia's house: Her siblings (Natasha Pearce, Bryan Handy) are hostile, but Mrs. Jones welcomes John and advises her dubious relatives that they should put Talia's happiness ahead of personal prejudices. John moves in with Talia — she has the far-nicer home — and they try to make a go of things, but the constant interference make it hard. Minor arguments about neatness and decorating become racially charged. They're heckled with phrases like "jungle fever" and "acting white." Tina and Dwayne encourage Talia's African-American high-school sweetie (Daryl Dismond) to pursue her, while John's father encourages John to go back to his old girlfriend, über-blond Victoria (Michelle Merserau). Talia's girlfriends wonder why her white boy hasn't proposed yet — could it be he's not serious about the relationship? Things come to an ugly head when Talia optimistically brings together both sets of parents over dinner. Cunningham's debut feature tries to cram too much into its 100-minute running time, but should be commended for its ambition; Cunningham tackles a complicated subject, rejecting the stridency favored by filmmakers of the Spike Lee persuasion in favor of a more even-handed tone. leave a comment --Mailtland McDonagh

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