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Karen is further proof that there is no subject in American cinema that is off limits. Instead of tackling class or race divide, stereotypes, or the vicious cycle of discrimination, director Coke Daniels decides to focus on the women that have been the subject of memes and social media videos. The goal is a provocative plot that makes audiences think. Is the movie able to use a narrow focus to take on broad topics?
Malik (Cory Hardrict) and Imani (Jasmine Burke) are a Black couple that has moved into a predominantly white neighborhood. Their new neighbor Karen Drexler (Taryn Manning) seems nice at first, but soon makes it her personal mission to get them to move out. When the two refuse to leave, Karen takes things to frightening levels. The film moves from social commentary to straight up thriller.
The film keeps things as simple as possible. Instead of coming up with new ideas or scenarios, the film is essentially a compilation of the clips most of the world has seen the past year. Talking to the manager because a table is too loud? Check. Complaining that the trash can has not been brought in on time. Of course. Microaggressions and passive-aggressive statements? You bet. If the video has been up on YouTube, there is a scene about it.
An argument can be made that this is the point of the movie. Racism is not a subject that needs clever analogies and fancy wordplay. If Karen is trying to deal with racism in an on the nose fashion, it is mildly successful. There is a familiarity, but it still ultimately comes off as lazy. It is the equivalent of clickbait journalism. The situations are there to draw the ire of the viewer without developing a plot of characters.
Once the comment is made that, “Karen is a Karen” and Karen drops “All Lives Matter” in reference to the Black Lives Matter movement, it is clear the story is all about riling up emotions and not discussions. Instead, it ends up being a tone deaf homage to headlines of the past year. By the time a supposedly stirring monologue plays over the end, audiences will be unsure whether Karen is poorly written parody or just poorly written.
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