A Lot of Nothing
Anonymous Content, 2022
Sarah Kelly Kaplan / Mo McRae
📷 : Licensed from Shutterstock
Thought-provoking movies and TV shows
Movies and TV shows that make you laugh, or involve urgency, like chase scenes or other physical activity
A Lot of Nothing presents the successful, charming couple of James (Y'lan Noel, Insecure) and Vanessa (Cleopatra Coleman, Infinity Pool). Living in their extravagant house in the Hollywood Hills, the two lawyers hear a news report one night about a fatal police shooting involving their uniformed next-door neighbor, Brian (Justin Hartley, Smallville). They disagree on their comprehension of the news story, with James suggesting they should not jump to conclusions and Vanessa insisting that Brian is guilty. As they come to an agreement about Brian’s probable guilt, they then debate on what, if anything, they should do about it.
After they each experience a stressful day of work, James comes home and unwinds while Vanessa, left to bring in groceries alone, spots Brian and heads over to confront him about his involvement in the shooting. After Brian is disrespectful and threatening in his response, Vanessa heads off and tells James, who heads over to Brian’s house to clear the air. When he fares no better, he and Vanessa kidnap Brian at gunpoint, forcing him into their house and tying him to a chair in the garage, all to coerce him into a more remorseful tone. As the evening progresses, their plan goes farther and farther off the rails.
A Lot of Nothing certainly has its flaws, with a couple of far-fetched moments and plot details introduced way too far along in the story. As in other works, if you find the film humorous enough, you may overlook its biggest weaknesses. Nonetheless, the film serves as an examination into how a sense of powerlessness can strongly influence one’s behavior. Despite being a well-to-do couple working for established law firms, James and Vanessa ultimately feel like they cannot incite change in any methodical, level-headed way.
Mo McRae’s directorial debut provides social critiques without being preachy, particularly in its first act. For instance, James bristles at his White co-worker’s use of the term “baby mama.” Vanessa copes with being talked over by her male colleagues and having her fair skin complexion used to insult her. These moments serve as snapshots of what members of marginalized groups can experience in spaces dominated by the majority. They often do not feel that they have the power to express their objection to the language or treatment of others, and the frustration from such encounters festers.
Despite its serious synopsis, this indie flick swings from a humorous tone to suspenseful and back several times. For instance, in the scene preceding Vanessa’s first intimidating encounter with Brian, James speaks very seductively to his Peloton machine in a goofy aside. Similarly, the opening scene oscillates between the fearfulness James and Vanessa feel over the revelation about their neighbor and their brainstorming which Martin Luther King quote to post to Facebook. The humor infused into the story differentiates it from many other films on the subject of police brutality. While it may sound ill-fitting, the comedic element endears the film’s main characters to the audience.
On the topic of characters, the situation escalates once James’s brother Jamal and his pregnant fiancée come over for dinner. As in many stories, such as Rachel Getting Married (2008) or the aptly-named Brothers (2009), the presence of a sibling can shed light on the way a protagonist behaves. Jamal is much more militant than James, consistently inferring that James is conforming to White society. Similar tension exists between Jamal’s earthy fiancée, Candy, and the more practical Vanessa, who rolls her eyes at Candy’s talk of veganism, energy and overused proverbs. They share a contentious conversation once Jamal and Candy arrive, all while trying to conceal the fact that they are holding Brian captive. The presence of in-laws with different philosophies on life allows McRae and co-writer Sarah Kelly Kaplan to show Black characters as more than a monolith, again without preaching this point to the audience.
A Lot of Nothing does not tie up every loose end. However, it gives its viewers a decent amount to chew on, offering different perspectives and three-dimensional characters. It effectively dodges the temptation to have each party involved provide the exact spiel you’d expect from scene to scene, keeping the interest level up despite some absurd turns in the story. Despite its weaknesses, the SXSW Festival award-nominated indie manages to be visually interesting and thought-provoking.
There is no pinpoint accurate comparison for A Lot of Nothing, but a film that bears a slight resemblance is the 1982 Martin Scorsese flick The King of Comedy. Robert De Niro plays Rupert, an unsuccessful comic who develops an obsession with his idol, talk show host Jerry Langford, and proceeds to stalk and kidnap him after an initial rejection. While Rupert is clearly demented, his actions stem from a sense of desperation and powerlessness, similar to James and Vanessa. Both films show their protagonists taking drastic and illegal action in response to these feelings, wasting massive amounts of duct tape in the process.