Made in America

(Richard Benjamin, USA, 1993)


Actor-turned-director Richard Benjamin has made some awful films in his time (such as Mermaids, 1990) – but few as dire as Made in America. It is not an especially offensive or inept movie, only criminally bland.

Black teenager Zora (Nia Long) pines for the father she has never known, after learning from her mother Sarah (Whoopi Goldberg) that she was conceived with the aid of an anonymous sperm donation.

She tracks down the donor, car salesman Hal (Ted Danson), and drags him into her family life despite the uncomfortable fact that he is white.

As the references to Shirley Temple in The Little Princess (1939) knowingly indicate, this is a story about putting broken families and divided races back together again. It cleverly inverts the standard premise of many social comedies. Here the black woman is a cultured sophisticate, while the white man is a vulgar hick.

No amount of feel-good vibes can disguise, however, the film's true message: that blacks should accept whites into their lives as loving, benevolent saviours.

Benjamin directs by-the-numbers (his preferred mode), alternating Cosby Show-style scenes of Whoopi's cute family with hopelessly broad, unfunny scenes of Danson clowning with animals in his car yard.

Goldberg is always a joy to watch but her on-screen teaming with Danson is not a happy one. (Nor was the short-lived, off-screen teaming.)

Take careful note, during the show stopping, communal rendition of Sly Stone's "Stand" in the final credits, how little soul there is in Danson's rigid, honky body.

MORE Benjamin: Downtown, Milk Money

© Adrian Martin February 1994

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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