Saturday, September 3, 2016
Murphy Watch: Coming to America (1988)
Back when I was 13 or so, Hollywood was doing pretty darn well. It was pretty common for middle-class folk to load the crew into the family truckster and go on down to the local mall or wherever and catch a movie at the cineplex. I saw Coming to America (1988) on opening weekend, and what I remember is: so did everyone else.
This movie was absolutely huge with me and my friends, but my parents watched it more than once (once it hit home video), and it still gets a lot of play on basic cable. In fact, we parked ourselves on the sofa after getting home from vacation and watched the movie just to give ourselves some decompression time.
At this point, the movie has grossed almost $130 million that Box Office Mojo knows about, which isn't bad for a movie that likely cost about $20 million to make.
In the manner of the best 1980's comedies - from Ghostbusters to Naked Gun, it's an imminently quotable movie, or seemed so at the time. At least it became that through repeated viewings. Not that surprising from a movie put together by Eddie Murphy and John Landis, I suppose.
I don't just think Coming to America is a funny movie (I think it's hilarious), I think it's a fantastically written and perfectly executed all-ages movie, from direction to performances to editing and music cues. And all that's a reminder of what a set of talents we had in Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, John Landis, John Amos, James Earl Jones, Madge Sinclair and Eriq La Salle and everyone else (Louie f'ing Anderson is in this!).
I also think it's really funny that Black Panther will need to really think think about about what it's doing for a script and abandon the original Black Panther trope of King T'Challa to the U.S. undercover as a student lest we end up with a suspiciously familiar story.
Maybe most remarkable is that the movie has such an overwhelmingly Black cast and then and now it's not discussed in terms of being a "Black" movie, and not because it was white-washed. I'd argue it's a movie that - while it has a lot of edges knocked off to reach an all-ages audience - makes no bones about being by and about Black people, and it's hard to say exactly why it was massively successful across the planet (the movie has a very large international box office). Maybe it's the fairy-tale nature of the story? Prince Hakeem and Semi's familiarity as protagonists? I dunno.
Anyway, what's to say? If you don't like this movie, you're a little dead inside.