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Percy Jones is a larger-than-life husband and father committed to protecting his daughters from the wrong men, specifically unemployed slackers. So when Theresa, 24, announces she’s bringing home her boyfriend for her parents’ 25th anniversary party, Percy uses his loan officer position at the bank to run a credit check on one Simon Green. He learns the young man coming for the weekend is a successful investment broker; he doesn’t learn that Simon just quit his high-paying job, that he’s already engaged to Theresa—or that he’s white.
Things don’t go well. Percy intentionally intimidates and mocks Simon. In response, Simon gets nervous, knocks things over and tells stupid lies in attempts to impress Percy. Percy responds by locking himself in the basement with Simon at night to keep Theresa and her beau apart. Eventually, the racial and relationship conflicts explode, dividing the family on the night before the big anniversary party.
Guess Who stands for the idea that character should always trump pigment. But no one can rightly accuse director Kevin Rodney Sullivan of glossing over the reality that interracial relationships and marriage can be difficult for families of every race—and a significant challenge for the couple themselves. Even the most open minded among us who don’t want race to be an issue must eventually admit such differences can’t be ignored. They’ve got to be confronted and embraced, in a way.
It’s a lesson the American Christian church is still struggling to learn, in spite of the Bible’s clear statements that all in Christ are one (Col. 3:11). As Bernie Mac said while promoting the film, “You haven’t seen God. How can you judge? Is heaven all black? Is heaven all white? Is heaven all Asian? I don’t think you can sit there and have these prejudices until you know what’s in heaven.”
Amen, Bernie. And those of us who claim to know of heaven should be the last to contribute to the divide here on earth.
Elsewhere, marriage and family are valued. Lying is shown to be wrong and harmful to relationships. The authoritarian Percy admits the need for masculine humility to make a marriage work. Simon reveals that his dad left when he was two, and Percy eventually tells him “every man gets to choose his destiny no matter what his father did.”
When Simon asks if they have vodka, Percy says no because “this is a Christian house.” However, when vodka is quickly found, Percy drinks and gets drunk.
Simon and Theresa live together and are open about the fact that they have sex. The engaged couple kiss and make out playfully several times, including a moment when Simon tries on Theresa’s lacy nightgown over his clothes just before Percy walks in on them. When asked by her sister what sex with a white guy is like, Theresa jokingly suggests that white guys are “bigger,” that they sing a lot and that Simon can “hold a note a long time.”
Percy sleeps in the same bed with Simon in the basement to make sure his daughter is not “violated” under his own roof when Simon gets “hot and horny” and starts listening to “Mr. Johnson.” Simon tells Theresa he’s never cheated on her “except for that one time with myself.” Marilyn jokes that Percy only needs five seconds. The long-married couple dance suggestively together at their anniversary party and Percy says they later did some “sheet-shaking.” The word “bone” is joked about in a sexual context several times.
Lyrics to the B2K song “Bump Bump Bump” are referenced repeatedly, including the line “Baby turn around and let me see that sexy body go bump bump bump.” Percy often jokes about a fussy, fashion-conscious party planner being gay, but we learn he is a “metrosexual”—married—straight guy.
Played for laughs, a cab stops suddenly in traffic causing several near-collisions and injuring Simon’s nose. Later, Simon and Percy aggressively race motorized go-carts and end up crashing through a barrier into real traffic.
Crude or Profane Language
The s-word and "a--" are heard about 15 times each, "d--n" and "h---" about 5 times each, and at least one use each of "g--d--n" and “Lord.”
Drug and Alcohol Content
At a family dinner, almost everyone drinks. Later, Percy and Simon get drunk. Marilyn, Theresa and a large group of women also get drunk together. Guests at a large party drink.
Other Negative Elements
Obviously, racism is a central focus of the film. Black characters make racial comments about white people, including a string of white ethnic slurs rattled off by Percy and his dad. Goaded on by Percy, Simon tells a handful of black jokes. But I should add that all are intended to illustrate racial issues and difficulties. ...
When I first heard that Ashton Kutcher and Bernie Mac were stepping into the shoes of Sidney Poitier and Spencer Tracy to recreate 1967’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, my thoughts leaned toward the uncharitable. It turns out that though some of those thoughts were justified, few were for the right reasons. It quickly becomes clear while watching Guess Who that it is less a race-swapping remake than a distant, modern-day cousin of the original. In fact, the film’s first act has more in common with Meet the Parents than the sophisticated classic, diving headfirst into Ben Stiller territory.
Guess Who does gain surprising footing after a while, though, when it gets serious about the issues of race and marriage—and the chemistry between Mac and Kutcher begins to gel. Then comes a scene in which the familyfinally sits down together around the dinner table and begin helping themselves to largehelpings of honest tension. ...
While the plates are passed, Simon describes how he objected when an uncle told a black joke. Percy meanly suggests Simon tell the joke, calling him chicken when he declines. We know what Percy’s doing. Everyone at the table and everyone in the theater knows the white boyfriend shouldn’t tell the joke to the five members of the black Jones family. When he does and everyone chuckles, Percy asks him to tell another black joke. And then another. I could feel the rising discomfort in the theater as we all waited for the other shoe to drop. The guy behind me actually told Simon to stop.
That scene changes the tone of Guess Who, redeeming it somehow. It assaults us with inappropriate joking, but in doing so reminds us that racism is not a dead issue, even in our modern culture, even in an Ashton Kutcher/Bernie Mac buddy comedy. We’re suddenly aware again of how painful words and attitudes can feel. And when Percy and Simon eventually begin to bond, that mutual acceptance feels genuinely hopeful.
The rest of the film unspools predictably, but that honesty has changedthings. The characters become more likable, the relationships comeinto sharper focus and the comedy gets warmer. That doesn't make upfor the film's earlier flaws, but it does get easier to laugh along with the stars' hijinks and root for the inevitable feel-good ending.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Ashton Kutcher as Simon Green; Bernie Mac as Percy Jones; Zoe Saldana as Theresa Jones; Judith Scott as Marilyn Jones
Kevin Rodney Sullivan ( )