If I am honest, KAREN was a lot less “crazy” than I was expecting it to be. It’s a film that takes a “ripped from the headlines” approach. It’s based on the Karen meme where white women decide to start leveling charges at innocent black people because they are racists who can’t stand the thought of black people even existing in what they consider their space. It’s a fictional version of a lot of videos that we’ve seen in the last few years: Amy Cooper in Central Park, Lisa Alexander in San Francisco, and “Kroger Karen” in Detroit. Maybe it’s less “crazy” to me because actual Karens are pretty out there to start with. In the movie, you see versions of this kind of conduct where these women weaponize their supposed frailty. It’s a bit sobering, really. It cuts a little too close to real-life while still being slightly exaggerated.
KAREN is directed by Coke Daniels (His, Hers, & The Truth) and starring Cory Hardrict (Warm Bodies) as Malik, Jasmine Burke (Angrily Ever After) as Imani, Gregory Allen Williams (Brightburn) as Charles Wright, Mary Christina Brown (Paydirt) as Jan, Brandon Skelnar (Mapplethorpe) as Officer Hill, Roger Dorman (Wander) as Officer Mike Wind, and Taryn Manning (Orange Is The New Black) as Karen.
KAREN is the story of a young Black couple who move into a suburban subdivision to have a family and are instantly targeted by their neighbor and HOA president Karen Drexler. Every time they are outside their home, Karen is right there: asking questions, making requests, and implying things with a big smile on her face. Malik and Imani try to be neighborly, but Karen is never satisfied and they come to the conclusion that not all is well with their neighbor.
The film’s protagonists are the young couple Malik and Imani, but just like Dennis Quaid in The Intruder before her, Taryn Manning really makes a meal of her role as Karen. She’s quite close to Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction level and that’s not a bad thing, but her ace is her honeyed acid tongue. She’s the best, aka the worst, when she’s trying to pretend she’s nice. It totally puts your sympathies with the couple and their friends. Cory Hardict and Jasmine Burke do a good job of being the put upon neighbors who are confused by what is happening. They are believable as a couple. Burke is especially strong in her role, and at the finale, an equal force to match Karen’s. Brandon Skelnar is good as the rookie cop, you knew there was going to be one, and worthy of a mention.
It’s not a long movie and the set-up of the various examples of Karen Karen-ing the innocent characters in the film and her repeated attempts to control her neighbors could have used more substance, script, and story-wise. The examples are pretty textbook and they make the point of what people like Karen do in real life, but I can’t help but feel like the film could have done more with the concept. It’s a perfectly serviceable film and it does hit the target, but I think there were a few too many coincidences and maybe that time could have been spent with the protagonists, or the explanation of how Karen became Karen could have been shown rather than told.
My main problem with the film is that it does give this particular Karen an out to explain why she is like this. It comes a little too close to making her sympathetic oddly and I didn’t care for it. Not everyone needs a tragic backstory. On the plus side, the film and Manning’s performance really make the point that KAREN behavior has a lot to do with control issues. KAREN has a dedicated performance by Taryn Manning and sympathetic leads in Jasmine Burke and Cory Hardrict. She’s got the Karen look and energy.
The production value isn’t bad, it’s about basic cable level – nothing inspired, but nothing too shabby either. I think there was a missed opportunity to give it some depth but that’s not really the kind of movie that this is. It does illustrate what a Karen is and some of the usual crimes they commit because what they do is criminal and unethical, and brings in the collusion of the police in oppressing Black people. I am on board with how the “bad cops” are portrayed in this and how it is boldly stated that there is a protection network within the police ranks. It’s not called what it normally is called, but the Thin Blue Line does exist.
While I have some quibbles and wish that the film was more substantive, I do feel that KAREN is actually a decent effort and a decent example of what a KAREN is, which I think is useful to the world. It’s kind of trashy, but fun in the exploitation film kind of way. Do I have to remind people that the majority of John Water’s career was spent making low-budget and deliberately trashy films? KAREN definitely is not Get Out, but it’s a decent film about how another type of racism works, and for that, I can’t condemn it. You can have fun watching it and it will make you remember some of these real-life incidents. I don’t have a problem with that kind of reminder. As a matter of fact, I think some people need them.
KAREN is now in theaters and VOD from Quiver Distribution.
- [Interview] Desiree Connell & Scott B. Hansen for BAD CANDY - September 21, 2021
- [Movie Review] KAREN - September 4, 2021
- [Interview] Christopher Alender & Ben Lovett for THE OLD WAYS - September 1, 2021