I just saw this film a few nights ago, and I found it so ridiculous!
The plot is that a black man and a white woman fall in love and want to get married, and their families have to deal with their attitudes about interracial marriage.
Through most of the movie, the main problem anyone has is the black/white thing.
More importantly though, everyone in favor of the marriage acts like the only reason anyone could not give their blessing would be because they were racist, or romantically dead inside.
However there were several major, big-time problems with the proposed marriage:
1. They only met 10 days ago. 10 days on vacation in Hawaii, a whirlwind romance, and they now want to get married. Not only that, they want to get married in another week’s time.
2. They arrive in San Francisco and tell her family. They have one day to get to know their future son-in-law, John, then he will fly to Geneva, and their daughter, Joanna, will leave a week later to get married, in Geneva.
3. Joanna believes her parents will have no problem with the marriage, but indicates she’s going to do it regardless of what they say.
4. John, however, privately tells her parents, without her knowledge, that he doesn’t want any problems in his life so that if they don’t give them a full blessing with no reservations, he won’t marry her.
5. John is 37, she is 23. He is 14 years older than her. He has been married before and had a son; they were both killed in a car crash.
6. They later decide that Joanna will fly with him to Geneva that night, instead of waiting a week.
7. John’s father expresses his disapproval and John responds with a speech which includes this: “You and your whole lousy generation believes the way it was for you is the way it’s got to be. And not until your whole generation has lain down and died will the dead weight of you be off our backs!”
Now, I don’t care that they are an interracial couple. Actually I kinda like to see interracial couples, just because the contrasting skin tones make for a nice aesthetic.
So from a 2009, not-raised-to-care-about-race perspective, the racial issue was a complete non-issue.
Putting myself in the father’s place, I would have zero problem with my daughter marrying a person of another race. I wouldn’t even have the initial shock/surprise that everyone seemed to have.
However, I would totally have objected to the marriage!
It’s ridiculous to make a lifelong commitment after 10 days. There’s just no reason to. What’s the rush? Seriously, why does it have to go so quick? And to only get to meet the guy for a few hours… I could never give my blessing for my daughter to marry a man I’d only met for a such a short time.
Then there’s the fact of the age difference. I’m 8 years older than my wife and while dating it didn’t seem to matter but it actually does, sometimes. Not necessarily a lot, and not necessarily enough to be against a marriage, but it could be relevant, and 14 years is likely to be even more relevant.
Of special concern is the fact that John is giving an ultimatum to the parents that Joanna doesn’t even know about! And they know she doesn’t know… that he’s doing this behind her back, saying he’ll not marry her if they don’t approve because he doesn’t want that problem in his life… to me that would indicate he didn’t love her that much or was too selfish to be worth marrying. I’d definitely object on that ground if no other.
I was horrified at the way John talked to his father. Obviously Joanna’s parents weren’t there for that. Sure, John’s father had racial problems, but have some patience, he’d only know for about an HOUR that his son was marrying a white girl. And even if he didn’t have any problems with white people, he had a point that it was going to be a big deal to a lot of people. At that time, it was illegal in several states (though thankfully overturned by the Loving case before the movie actually hit theatres).
Give the man some time to adjust. If he’s a good man, he’ll come around and give his blessing, but it’d ridiculous to expect that in an hour or two. Again, the rush of the marriage (for no good reason from the pov of the parents) ends up putting completely unnecessary pressure on the parents.
(By the way, after John’s horrifically disrespectful speech to his father, his father never utters a single word for the remainder of the film.)
It’s also pretty selfish to get married in another country when you know your parents would really like to have a nice wedding and such that they are other friends/relatives could attend, without a pretty good reason. A wedding ceremony is a part of the community. They did at least belatedly invite the parents to fly to Geneva for the wedding.
The worst part of the film for me was that all these completely valid reasons to object to the wedding were either not addressed at all or only given lip service, and those in favor of the marriage had nothing but pity or contempt for those who weren’t, painting them as bigots or being against love or something.
At the end, Spencer Tracy’s character Matt gives a big speech which ends with approving of the marriage. We, the audience, are obviously supposed to have been on the side of the “young” lovers all along and therefore to be happy about this.
To me, it just seemed sad that Matt was so bullied by everyone and distracted by irrelevancies that he lost track of the many and major reasons to object.
I don’t care what the guy looks like, if my 23-year old daughter comes home from vacation for a few hours and informs me she’s leaving that night to fly to Geneva and marry a man she’s known for 10 days, I will object. I don’t care if he’s got the cure for cancer in his pocket, there is no reason to do it that quickly!
Unless you simply don’t care how other people feel. In which case, why are you even asking for a blessing in the first place?
Now, from a 2009 perspective it wouldn’t make sense to object on the grounds of race. How about in 1967? What if you, yourself, had no problem with a mixed-race marriage, but knew that 100 million people in the country did, and they’d face a lot of persecution for it? Might you object to spare them that?
For a “we’ve known each other 10 days” relationship, definitely. Joanna might have been raised not to care about race, but that’s easy when you’re in the majority race. We really have no idea how she’ll react when she and her husband go to a predominantly black location and she ends up on the receiving end of racism and hate.
She’s probably never experienced that and probably thinks it’s only an issue for John, not her. Or she might weather the persecution just fine, but the point is we don’t know, and there’s no way they do either, yet. Joanna displays remarkable naivete throughout the film so I have little doubt it’s never occurred to her.
If they both know the score, and know it’ll be an issue they have to deal with, and want to get married anyway because they love each so much, then fine. But they didn’t have time to have reached that level of thought.
Of course, “I don’t have a problem with race, I’m just worried about how you’ll be treated by other people” is frequently just code for actually having a problem with race. But it doesn’t have to be… I think, under certain circumstances in history, it’d be right to voice misgivings because of that.
When I was 17, I asked my dad what he’d think if I were to marry someone of another race. He said he wouldn’t care but he wouldn’t advise it because of society’s problem. But that wasn’t code, because even just a few years down the road society had changed, and when I was in a long-term-relationship with a girl from another race, he didn’t have any problem with it at all. I think I only caught flack from “society” once or twice in the form of some random guy on the street, and that was it.
At least in the social circles I move in, it’s a non-issue today. I was hoping this film would be a good exploration of 60’s racial issues, since I wasn’t around then. Instead, the racial issues were mentioned but not really discussed, and the myriad of reasons the marriage was a bad idea, at least at that time, were glossed over.
In all, I was very disappointed. It must go to show how deeply racial perceptions were at play in 1967 so that people were so focused on the racial issue that they didn’t pay attention to everything else.
And, it did have one of the all-time best film scenes ever, when Katherine Hepburn’s character fires her assistant for being a racist busybody that calls her daughter stupid:
“Now I have some instructions for you. I want you to go straight back to the gallery – Start your motor – When you get to the gallery tell Jennifer that she will be looking after things temporarily, she’s to give me a ring if there’s anything she can’t deal with herself. Then go into the office, and make out a check, for “cash,” for the sum of $5,000. Then carefully, but carefully Hilary, remove absolutely everything that might subsequently remind me that you had ever been there, including that yellow thing with the blue bulbs which you have such an affection for. Then take the check, for $5,000, which I feel you deserve, and get – permanently – lost. It’s not that I don’t want to know you – although I don’t – it’s just that I’m afraid we’re not really the sort of people that you can afford to be associated with.”