Because of the title, it’s understandable that audiences might assume that this movie is a reverse version of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, the highly touted 1967 drama about interracial dating that starred Sidney Poitier, Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy in his last role. But it’s not.
Ashton Kutcher is not a white Sidney Poitier, and it’s 38 years later, so mixed-race relationships have lost their shock value — at least for audiences, if not for the real-life families involved in them. If Guess Who has to be compared to something, then it’s a salt-and-pepper version of Meet the Parents, when Ben Stiller was the haplessly inadequate boyfriend to Robert DeNiro’s tyrannical future father-in-law. Guess Who has a few insightful moments and a lot of goofy ones. All in all, the movie’s surprisingly funny — the audience I saw it with loved it.
In Guess Who, the odd man out is Simon Green (Ashton Kutcher, The Butterfly Effect), a rising star on Wall Street who inexplicably quits his job the day before he’s going to meet his girlfriend’s family for her parents’ huge 25th wedding anniversary celebration. Insisting that color shouldn’t matter because her parents always raised her to judge the inner person, Theresa (Zoe Saldana, The Terminal) doesn’t warn them that Simon is white. Big mistake.
Dad Percy Jones (Bernie Mac, Mr. 3000) has already run Simon’s credit report and is impressed with his A+ rating, but he’s expecting a young Denzel Washington to walk in the door, not some sports-challenged guy who sunburns easily. It’s dislike at first sight. “A man who doesn’t like sports isn’t a real man,” Percy taunts. So Simon comes up with a wild tale about being a NASCAR test driver, figuring that racing is one sport that is so white that Percy wouldn’t know anything about it. Of course, it turns out that Percy is an avid NASCAR fan, making Simon a bald-faced liar in Percy’s book from then on out.
Not wanting to face the fact that his daughter is actually having sex, not to mention with a white man, Percy insists that Simon sleep in a moldy basement hideaway. To make sure that Simon (who has shown himself to be quite libidinous with Theresa) doesn’t sneak upstairs and “violate” his precious daughter, Percy plops himself down beside Simon. Needless to say, they both stretch out all over one another all night and Percy tries to cuddle Simon, sleepily thinking he’s his wife. How many times can we see this same straight-guys-sleeping-together-and-being-terrified-of-acting-like-gay-guys routine that seems standard fare in almost every buddy movie? (Everybody but me, however, was laughing their head off.)
But it’s one of the few scenes that really misses. Most of the movie plugs along at a fairly humorous, edgy pace. The biggest surprises of Guess Who are the performances of Bernie Mac and Ashton Kutcher. Both men give even-handed, nuanced portrayals that are balanced nicely between parody and comedy. I found these to be the best performances yet for both men, possibly thanks to director Kevin Rodney Sullivan (Barbershop 2: Back in Business), who has proved his skill in relationship comedies.
Like Meet the Parents, Guess Who is an intergenerational buddy movie with romance as a backdrop. The women are really just set pieces. Theresa is supposed to be an artist, but we never hear her talk about her career or even see any samples of her work. Her mother, Marilyn Jones (Judith Scott, Vampires Anonymous), is a middle-school principal, but we never see her in that capacity. The men are defined by their jobs; the women are defined by weddings — either the one coming up or the one being remembered.
Still, it’s one of the few movies I’ve seen in which a husband bends over backward to renew his wedding vows and prove he loves his wife more now than he did 25 years ago, and for that reason alone, Guess Who is worthy of commendation.
The most impressive scene features Percy’s marital advice to Simon. How did Perry manage to stay happily married to the same woman for 25 years? One simple trick: “Admit she’s always right.” Rated PG-13 for sex-related humor.
– reviewed by Marci Miller