Credit: John Keng

A Lot of Nothing

SXSW Film Festival Narrativve Feature Competition

Reviewed for by Abe Friedtanzer

Director: Mo McRae

Writer: Sarah Kelly Kaplan and Mo McRae

Cast: Y’lan Noel, Cleopatra Coleman, Shamier Anderson, Lex Scott Davis, Justin Hartley

Screened at: SXSW Film Festival Online, LA, 3/15/22

Opens: March 13th, 2022

It’s unfortunately often that there are reports of police brutality and the use of excessive and sometimes deadly force against people of color in the United States. The past few years have seen an increase in public outcry, with protests happening all across the country to reform the way policing works and rethink its very existence. How people engage with that on an individual level depends on a number of factors, including the risk any action can take to their own livelihood. A Lot of Nothing imagines one outlandish scenario in which a Black woman just can’t take it anymore and has to do something.

Vanessa (Cleopatra Coleman) and James (Y’lan Noel) are happily married and very successful, living in a large, comfortable home. When they read the latest news of a police shooting, perpetrated by their own next door neighbor, Brian (Justin Hartley), they spend a drunken evening coming up with the most scathing social media post they can while imagining how they could exact revenge on the racist cop. When Vanessa goes outside and sees him the next day, only to be treated extremely rudely, she decides she can no longer sit idly by and makes the impulsive – and entirely irreversible – decision to take him hostage.

If Vanessa’s quickly-hatched plan seems like a bad idea, that’s because it is, and this film is meant as a satire of the way that people always want to do something of meaning in response to how they are treated or see others in society being treated. Vanessa and James endure countless macroaggressions at work, talked down to by their peers and supervisors, and smile through them, aware that calling anyone out will likely only result in negative consequences that will blow back on them. The notion of a carefully-worded, snide comment posted online feels safe and innocuous, as opposed to pulling a gun on a police officer and discreetly escorting him to your garage.

There is additional drama present that complicates matters, like the arrival of James’ brother (Shamier Anderson) and his very pregnant wife (Lex Scott Davis) while Brian is tied up in the next room. Even before that, James is in the middle of a spin workout when Vanessa bursts in to tell him how Brian treated her, suggesting that, just between the two of them, there exists a massive gap in how they feel they are seen and represented in the eyes of others. James tries to talk Vanessa down numerous times, but once they’ve started what they’re doing, it’s impossible to turn back.

A Lot of Nothing comes from actor Mo McRae in his feature directorial debut. McRae has appeared on a host of short-lived series, including Rebel, Almost Family   , and Pitch, in addition to arcs on other shows like Sons of Anarchy and Big Little Lies. While those parts don’t necessarily have much to do with what he has created behind the camera here, he does have a knack for writing characters and finding the dark humor in moments of panic, embedding comedy within the horror show that plays itself out over the course of this film with co-writer Sarah Kelly Kaplan.

Though he doesn’t star, McRae has assembled an impressive cast, led by Coleman, best known for The Last Man on Earth and Dopesick    , and Noel, from Insecure. The two have great onscreen chemistry that works just as well when they’re not getting along, and Anderson and Davis provide excellent support as their own brand of difficult guests. Hartley, typically charming on This Is Us, is perfectly despicable as Brian, whose arrogant attitude only serves to further drive Vanessa’s anger. This film is full of uncomfortable moments and a few bizarre turns, but ultimately it’s both something to think about and a darkly entertaining ride to experience.

104 minutes

Story – B

Acting – B+

Technical – B

Overall – B

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