Breaking In [And Out the Burden of Representation]

SPOILER ALERT!!!

A couple nights ago I finally watched Breaking In, 2018, and I thought I loved it (as I do most strong-black-female-lead films I watch). The film is directed by James McTeigue — who’s résumé isn’t all that impressive considering I feel very unamused by all his other work. The screenplay is by Ryan Engle who I’ve never heard of with yet another underwhelming résumé. The story is written by Jaime Primak Sullivan, who is she anyway? Now you’re probably wondering how I thought I loved the film with such an obvious virtually unknown and less than impressive behind the scenes trio? One main reason, Gabrielle Union, who played the leading role of Shaun Russell. 

When the film starts there’s a very deliberate sense of suspense pushed forward and honestly, I wasn’t engaged at all. The minute I start looking for snacks or checking my phone, you’ve already partially lost me. Anyway, old dude, Shaun’s dad who I don’t really care for, gets ran-over and killed. Next thing Shaun and her children, Jasmine Russell played by Ajiona Alexus and Glover Russell played by Seth Carr, are driving to the deceased’s vacation home for the weekend for real estate purposes. First thing’s first, the place is already suspiciously too big, what does one man need all that house for? Secondly, they get there and the alarm system isn’t armed, a touch too obvious for my liking but effective because now I am finally engaged — something is about to happen… The next few scenes drag a little because yes, the house is huge, yes something isn’t quite right, yes the filmmakers have to build the flesh around the story and all that jazz, cool — so I lived through it. Long story short, the robbers are already in the house, they have the children and Shaun is locked out the house. As a mother myself, I instantly connect with literature that depicts the amount of emotion involved in the unshakable love for your child and the lengths you’re willing to go to ensure your child is out of harm’s way. Best part, Gabrielle Union nailed the role a good 90% of the time. My hat goes off to her, as always.

There’s a moment in every film I watch, something strikes me and it’s like a penny drops and I know, I’m going to review the HECK out of it. That moment for me was when one of the robbers, the die hard tattooed dude urgh, is suddenly back in the house, kills his partner and proceeds to attack Shaun. Hearing her mother screaming and struggling, Jasmine goes in the house to try help but almost gets raped. Fortunately, Shaun is able to draw his attention, take his knife and kill him. It was in that moment I knew, screw the technicalities of a holistically impressive motion picture, I think I love this film — down to the shock you see in Shaun’s bodily reaction after killing that man — YASSS!!! Despite the few annoyances and clichés I’d picked up, that scene was so profound for me that I actually momentarily forgot what I didn’t like about the film in the first place. However, I didn’t want to just rave about why I thought I loved the film, so I’ll tell you why else it wasn’t so great. The storyline is thin, we have no real information on why Shaun apparently has daddy issues, or more accurately, issues with her late father. Her husband rocks up in the nth hour and despite his masculine physique, he is weak AF and is basically used as a vulnerability the way normal-Hollywood-formula screenplays would place an old person, woman or child in a scene to draw out fragility. His presence is the least useful and honestly, we could have done away with it, but whatever. The first kill was completely unnecessary, but I love that the agent wasn’t a typical blonde and at least knew to try and run away. She could’ve played cool till she got into the car but I could also understand the panic mood one enters when something is amiss. The dialogue in some scenes could’ve been significantly better, and a touch more convincing, but it wasn’t a total train smash. The boy, Glover, is a better actor when happy, geeky and childlike than scared. His performance of fear was more of a cliché than the scene that lingered on the computer screen to show that someone was in the house [we already knew that James, we knew, you are spoon feeding us way too much]. Much as the almost rape scene motivated me to review the film, it was also annoying and triggering AF. This was suppose to just be a robbery but now there are murders and you want to add rape to that too? It’s too much man, way too much. Too many twists spoil the plot. All the while the husband/father is busy nursing his wounds outside the house, talk about manning up… WEAK!

Now that we have that out the way, why did I still feel I could love this film? As the title already gave away, this film somehow qualifies to go under my little canon of literature trying to dismantle the burden of representation in one way or another. Females are typically seen as weak, emotionally malleable, and dependant on the male. It’s still not accessible enough to find a physically strong, technical and intelligent female lead. Best still, how many real life dramas or action and suspense films have you seen where a black female kicks butt and outsmarts criminals? Not enough. Definitely not enough. I particularly love Shaun’s character in this film not only because she represents strength and smarts, but because her motivation is the purest form of love, a mother’s love, low key cliché but it’ll never get old. And yes, it is so refreshing to see more and more films with female leads who aren’t hang up on finding romantic love, or generally going through the most [no thanks to Tyler Perry, I really don’t enjoy the man and I thank God for each film realised and black people are experiencing other things beside ‘the never-ending struggle’]. Also, how interesting is in that Shaun can actually take a punch significantly better than her masculine husband? All that muscle and homeboy couldn’t even help his wife and kids whom have BEEN master minding their survival — he literally rocked up to be deadweight — I am beyond annoyed. But in the same breath, this highlights how more often than not, unlike the fairytales we grew up watching and reading, women can and do save themselves, their babies, and apparently their husbands too. This takes the title of superwoman to a whole other level. And sure, realistically we can all acknowledge women have had a certain level of strength and responsibly despite stereotypes, but it’s really great to actually see it portrayed in a consumable form of literature. Why? Because representation matters! So regardless of my previous critiques on the film, the fact that we are seeing more and more films and literature depicting black women in a variety of roles is brilliant. I don’t care if the film had a several clichés we didn’t need or ask for, the fact that the lead is a black female makes the clichés null and void. Now instead of watching a film where either a man comes to the rescue, or Angelina Jolie (who I love by the way so no shade at all) kicks butt and saves the day — I no have the option to enjoy watching a fellow black female throw a punch and protect her entire family. So sure, rating the film as purely a film, it’s kinda mediocre — but representation matters to me so much so that I can look past a few plot holes, well until we do get an improved drama/ suspense/ action film with a strong black female lead. I just hope the lead will be as good an actress as Gabrielle Union.

Would I watch this film again? Sure, as mentioned in the paragraph above. Would I recommend it as a must-watch? Not particularly, no [rather watch Set It Off, 1996, to see four black women make it shake]. Perhaps watching it once for reference won’t hurt but I’m certainly not raving about it. For the most part I think it’s my bias and love for Gabrielle Union I even bothered watching and proceeding to review. But I also want to hear from you, have you watched the film? How do you rate it? Was it inexcusable garbage despite Gabrielle Union’s performance? Or can it be allowed to stand among films that dismantle the burden of representation?

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