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Sundance Film Festival Review: ‘Emergency’ Mixes Good Humor With a Dark Undercurrent of Racism

There are numerous ways in which Emergency could have been an utter failure. On the one hand, it could have just been a lowest common denominator comedy. Think a boys behaving badly tale. On the other, it also could have been an utterly depressing treatise on bias and racism. It would have felt like the worst kind of tone deaf Oscar bait. Given the content, neither would have worked on its own. Luckily, this is a really effective mix of both really amusing material and deeply upsetting potential for tragedy. Playing at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival, this is the first movie to get me excited.

Emergency really could have been a mess. It’s to the credit of all involved that it walks such a fine line with aplomb. You almost keep expecting a stumble, given how easily that could have occurred. Yet, aside from a less than thrilling resolution, this is about 100 minutes of strong entertainment with something incredibly important to say.

Sean (RJ Cyler) and Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins), are best friends and college roommates on the verge of graduation. They’re inseparable, though taking on school quite differently. Sean just likes to party, while Kunle has been accepted to Princeton for Grad studies, which he hasn’t revealed to his buddy yet. They’re planning, along with gamer roommate Carlos (Sebastian Chacon) to do an epic night of partying, one that will get them on the school’s wall of firsts. The night, however, is going to evolve quite differently, and that’s putting it mildly.

Just as they’re returning home to get ready for the night, Sean and Kunle discover Emma (Maddie Nichols), passed out in their apartment. Carlos is gaming in his room, completely unaware of their unwanted guest. Now, it’s college, and a drunk girl isn’t the most uncommon thing in the world. However, complicating matters is that Emma is a white teen, while Sean is African American, Kunle is of African heritage, and Carlos is latino. So, the optics are terrible. Those worries are debated back in forth, with Kunle wanting to help her and Sean concerned with the trio being railroaded. Eventually, they try to split the difference, which only complicates matters. That’s before they wind up followed by Emma’s sister Maddy (Sabrina Carpenter), who’s worried once she figured out she’s gone missing. Along with her friend Alice (Madison Thompson), as well as Alice’s boy toy Rafael (Diego Abraham), they track Emma, fearing the worst. Comedy ensues, but the specter of tragedy always is looming just around the corner.

Amazon Studios

The cast lacks an overt standout, but everyone plays their roles pretty well. RJ Cyler is very funny in a broad sense, as is Sebastian Chacon in a lower key, while Donald Elise Watkins is a pure-hearted good kid. Cyler and Watkins have excellent chemistry, making their friendship one of the most interesting and pleasurable elements of the flick. Sabrina Carpenter unfortunately is mildly wasted, while Maddie Nichols doesn’t have much to do. The supporting cast, in addition to Diego Abraham and Madison Thompson, includes Summer Madison.

Director Carey Williams expands on his short, keeping things equally funny and rightly frustrating.Williams brings a lot of style to the film, which mixes well with KD Davila‘s often very humorous script. The way they’re able to bounce between both elements is really impressive. Davila and Williams even find clever ways to intertwine the two. A moment where the boys are accosted by a white family with a Black Lives Matter sign on their lawn hammers the point home perfectly. The movie doesn’t quite stick the landing and doesn’t know when to end, but the overall product is still very effective.

Emergency does an admirable job threading the genre needle, while still having something to say. It’s early here at Sundance 22, but this does seem like a movie that has some strong crossover potential. When Amazon releases it, it’s one to look out for!

SCORE: ★★★


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Written by Joey Magidson

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