If you are familiar with Bruce Beresford, then you’ll remember his award-winning film, Driving Ms. Daisy, featuring the ‘magical negro’ trope. This guy really loves to see black males serving white women for some creepy reason, but we have now arrived at Mr. Church. To get an idea of the setting, it’s the 1970s and post-Jim Crow. Seeing people of different races interact is not against the law anymore. The 1970s is the era of free love, bell bottoms, disco, and the opportunity to bridge a gap between blacks and whites through the story of a man who could cook, and the young brat that won’t stay out of his business.
In 1971 Los Angeles, Mr. Church (Eddie Murphy) enters the lives of Charlotte (Britt Robertson) and Marie Brooks (Natascha McElhone). Their chance meeting is due to Marie’s previous relationship with a rich man who wants to care for her from a distance. He sends Mr. Church to cook for the family so Marie doesn’t have to. Mr. Church is polite, talented, and obedient. He’s like an android, devoid of personality and there to make his white counterparts look good. But it’s all good because he’s there for a noble cause.
Marie is hiding her terminal illness from her daughter, while Charlotte, oblivious to what is happening, is averse to the idea of having a black man, not a cook in her home. She is convinced Mr. Church should be fired immediately, but eventually warms up to the idea of him being around. As time progresses, Mr. Church watches Charlotte grow into a teenager who is ready for college and ready to take on the world. While things don’t necessarily go as planned for Charlotte, she knows she has Mr. Church to rely on. And why not, Mr. Church ain’t doing shit else anyway. We don’t get to see what he does, who he is, or what he likes to do. His world revolves around white folks, but at least the duo can take on the challenges of life together. Man, this type of role is really out of pocket for Eddie Murphy. He isn’t funny, and he isn’t particularly interesting. He doesn’t bring any of his comedic quirks, or one-liners fans are used to in this role. He’s sleeping walking through this like he’s high on Elephant tranquilizers and really strapped for cash. He isn’t even magical, he’s just a negro who is trying to live his life and mind his business. He isn’t three dimensional, we don’t really know where he comes from, but he’s just there. He knows how to play the piano and that’s it. It isn’t until the last 15 minutes of the movie that the audience learns his backstory. When it’s finally exposed you want to smack yourself because they held back these important details for no reason. Murphy has built his career on breaking free of tropes by being a leading man in many successful comedy and action films. Why he would choose a role where he is a cook, who swoops in to rescue a random family while he drinks his sorrows away is beyond me. There is a heavy “can’t we all just get along” vibe to this. Also, I got that it’s ok to habitually line-step the boundaries when it comes to Mr. Church, but not the other way around. Charlotte constantly tries to pry her way into his personal life, which he clearly stated he wanted her to stay OUT of. She gets nosey anyway, he gets mad at her, she’s fragile (of course), and then he has to apologize for her getting in his business?! This is where the theme of acceptance ushers its way in. It’s ok if people get in your business because they are trying to get to know you. Duh! That’s as good a reason as any to violate someone’s personal space. Just accept the way things are Mr. Church! In addition to this film being utterly vapid, it’s an ADHD nightmare. The editing interferes with the pacing and some scenes move at the speed of light, while others take forever to end. As a viewer, it was difficult to engage intensely with certain scenes because it would get cut midway through. This left most of the scenes feeling incomplete. There is no rhyme or reason for these irresponsible scene changes as they don’t add anything to the already thin plot. It’s as if they ran out of time and had to put something together. It’s easy to see what Beresford was trying to accomplish here. He was definitely trying to reignite the spark Driving Ms. Daisy had once upon a time, but newsflash — those films don’t fly anymore! Mr. Church lacks energy, character connection, and even the talent of his previous films. Hopefully, this is the nail in the coffin for this kind of nonsense. Valerie Complex is a freelance writer and professional nerd. As a lover of Japanese animation, and all things film, she is passionate about diversity across all entertainment mediums.