We begin with Jada Yuan‘s dispatch from Sundance to New York: “‘For all the white people in the audience, on behalf of all the black people in the world, you most definitely have permission to laugh.’ That’s the disclaimer first-time director Justin Simien has been issuing before every Sundance screening of his biting satire of racial politics, Dear White People, which he also wrote. Laugh they did. And judging from a post-screening Q&A that consisted entirely of people standing up to give personal testimonials and lavish effusive praise on Simien, the cast, and the crew, DWP is most definitely a front-runner to take home the festival’s Audience Award.”
“The depressing number of race-mocking frat parties in recent years becomes the jumping-off point for a snarky but good-humored cultural debate,” writes Variety‘s Justin Chang. “Bristling with arguments about the complexities of black identity in a supposedly post-racial America, this lively and articulate campus-set comedy proves better at rattling off ideas and presenting opposing viewpoints than it does squeezing them into a coherent narrative frame. But while it veers toward smugness and self-satisfaction at times, the Spike-Lee-lite exercise nonetheless heralds a fresh and funny new voice on the scene in writer-director Justin Simien, bolstered by an an excellent cast.”
“It’s a remarkably propulsive thing, Dear White People, fair-minded and often quite true, even if it feels like everyone is reading lines written by Whit Stillman’s black cousin,” writes Brandon Harris for Filmmaker. “With style to burn and some remarkably postmodern hijinks in its pocket, Dear White People doesn’t always work (that its ending opts for suspense rather than surprise is one mistake of many), but it demonstrates Simien’s real talent. He has made a movie that suggests both School Daze and Higher Learning, two touchstones of the campus drama made by famed black directors, with traces of Ashby and Altman and the late, great (and sometimes not so great) Amiri Baraka around the edges.”
“Simien took his Twitter handle and turned it into a satire of race and college,” writes Wesley Morris at Grantland. “The movie has an arch, self-conscious pretentiousness that initially puts you off. All the quips come in at about 160 characters. But you’re eager to know where Simien is taking this story and its two dozen ideas. Basically, the answer is everyplace. Still, he keeps the film and its handful of black and white high-education archetypes so deeply under his control that he can complicate each of them until they approach seeming human.”
“Simien intensifies the impact of both action and dialogue with a self-reflexive directorial style that creates a marginally heightened sense of reality, revealing more about characters’ motivations than would conventionally be expected,” writes Justin Lowe for the Hollywood Reporter. “Whether this type of perspective is essential to telling the story or constitutes more of an attention-grabbing embellishment may depend more on personal taste than objective judgment.”
Updates, 2/1: “Dear White People pulls off a surprising number of things with startling ability,” writes James Rocchi for the Playlist. “It’s an American film that talks about race with strong feeling, common sense and good humor; it’s an indie screenwriting-directing debut as polished as it is provocative; it’s a satire that also lets its characters be people; it’s a showcase of clever craft and direction as well as whip-smart comedic writing brought to life by a dedicated, charismatic cast that also conveys real ideas and emotion. It’s precisely the kind of first film you want to see at Sundance—brash, bold, beautiful and where the few minor flaws can’t overwhelm your appreciation of this film or stop your enthusiasm for the prospect of the next one.”
“A bonafide satire of the Obama age,” declares Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn. “While black comedians like Dave Chapelle and Chris Rock have provided searing insight into the absurdities of lingering racial tensions, Simien consolidates much about the paradoxes explored in those acts and many others into a wildly enjoyable and scathing farce.”
Viewing (2’41”). Simien, Thessa Thompson and Tyler James talk to Variety.
Update, 3/3: Listening (45’58”). James Rocchi lunches with Simien.