Review: When The Bough Breaks

Review: When The Bough Breaks

An amazing thing happened when drama moved from stage to screen. All of the sudden, the audience could be inches from the action. With that, there was no longer a need to dramatize the drama. Gone were the wild gesticulations, in favor of more modest emoting. When people can see every line in your face, a more subtle expression will do. Why then, are some films insistent on being so totally without nuance? Why do some wish to overwrite, overact, and overdramatize? In the case of When The Bough Breaks, this practice is pretty clearly an effort to cover for the fact that the film really has nothing to say. There is nothing here beyond what is on the screen and what is on the screen is an unbalanced, ill-conceived, melodrama that is wholly lacking anything that feels fresh or original.

Photo Courtesy of Screen Gems

Photo Courtesy of Screen Gems

John and Laura Taylor (played by Morris Chestnut and Regina King, respectively) are a young, professional couple who desperately want to have a baby. Unable to do so on their own, they hire Anna (played cartoonishly by Jaz Sinclair), a beautiful young woman, who agrees to be their surrogate. While Anna seems perfectly nice, their first sign of trouble comes as her boyfriend makes inappropriate remarks when the Taylors have them over for dinner. When Anna suffers domestic abuse at the hands of her boyfriend, the Taylors intervene, offering her a place to live. 

All is well until Anna starts to develop a rabid fixation on John. When he rejects her, things go from bad to worse, threatening the safety of the Taylor's unborn child. The Taylors are forced to act quickly to defuse the situation and preserve their last best hope at becoming parents. 

Photo Courtesy of Screen Gems

Photo Courtesy of Screen Gems

The formula here is a sort of Fatal Attraction redux. Not unlike Obsessed in 2009 (starring Beyoné and Idris Elba) or The Perfect Guy last year, the film attempts to recreate the crazed would-be love interest who raises the stakes and amps up the tension. The problem is that everything here felt like it was on rails, gliding to an unsurprising conclusion via even less surprising means. The result is something like a spinning tea cup ride that tries to convince rider that it is out of control, but will ultimately end by limping to a halt. 

Its dramatic flaws could be overlooked if it weren't for the fact that it is also not attempting to say anything of note. Does it leverage its dynamic Black casting? Not in the least. Does it take advantage of the rich New Orleans backdrop? In no way. Does it use its mental health storyline to do anything other than paper over the story's obvious flaws? Again, sadly, no. It instead charges ahead with a narrative that elicits more "oh no she didn't" than anything resembling earnest thought. 

Photo Courtesy of Screen Gems

Photo Courtesy of Screen Gems

i would be remiss not to at least mention that it is a shame that we have gotten to this point. Studios know that this film will turn a profit. They know this because Black audiences are so desperate to see Black faces on screen, they will support just about anything that does that. Even empty dramas filled with over-the-top menace and listless seduction. There are no arguments to be made that this is a good film (or even that it tries to be). That this vacuous nonsense suffices as a studio's Black submission for the year is a strike against all of us. I simultaneously wish studios were consistently offering more and that Black audiences were asking for more.

For some, this brand of drama better suited to daytime television will be enough. They will simply let the idiocy wash over them and won't be bothered that it is 100 minutes of utter nonsense. As it shifts from family drama to something closer to horror in its final moments, they will just shift along with it. For me, however, I couldn't help feeling puzzled by the lack of nearly everything I find enjoyable about the movie-going experience. There is almost nothing to recommend here, but if you can get past the plot holes, inane dialogue, over the top acting, stale characters and general lack of direction, you might survive one of 2016's more useless cinematic experiences. 

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