When I first watched the trailer, I expected a college buddy comedy. However, as much as the billing of this movie is as a comedy, it is something far different and better; it is a satire, delving into race and politics as well as the nature of friendship. Not only are the performances brilliant and evocative, but the dialogue and plot will immerse you in the movie. The film is a wild ride that is unexpectedly far more insightful and entertaining than the usual buddy comedy film.
Emergency is a comedy-satire directed by Carey Williams from a screenplay by KD Dávila, a feature-length adaptation of their 2018 short film of the same name. In the movie, two college friends, Sean (RJ Cyler) and Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) are planning a night of firsts to be the first two black men to complete an epic night of partying. But before the pair can begin their night of debauchery, they stop at their dorm room and discover a young woman, Emma (Maddie Nichols), passed out on their couch. Their roommate Carlos (Sebastian Chacon), is oblivious. Kunle wants to call the police, but Sean insists they would be arrested, a logical assumption given the scenario. So the three decide to take the girl and get her help even while her sister Maddie (Sabrina Carpenter) and her friends chase them, thinking they’ve kidnapped Emma. This leads to a wild chase that morphs into a thriller asking the question of whether they will get her help in time or if they will be arrested just for trying to help her.
One of the reasons I liked this film so much is that the plot and cinematography are very evocative. Both subtle and not-so-subtle commentary on race relations and politics sprinkled throughout the film, questioning perspectives and bias. Sean is passionate about keeping the three of them safe, while the less experienced Kunle wants to ensure Emma makes it through the night. Both have impassioned dialogue, but both demonstrate how society views black men in society. They have to work hard to be seen in a different light by those biased against them. It also illuminates how dissimilar the pair are in their life experiences and their perceptions of what it means to be black. Besides their dialogue, we also get more visual insights. For example, the couple thinks the group is drug dealers but has a Black Lives Matter sign on their front porch. This illustrates the hypocrisy and inherent bias that white people have.
Besides the commentary, the film does a fantastic job of upending expectations in both the visual elements and the dialogue. As a viewer, you start out thinking this will be a buddy comedy film. However, the writing quickly upends that expectation, bringing in satire but also some authentic discussion over how differently black people are treated by the police. In a similar situation, most white people would have called the police. However, they wouldn’t necessarily have been suspected of anything nefarious. The film does a beautiful job of weaving insight into the more comedic moments, like when Carlos gives the wrong bottle of Gatorade to Emma or when Maddie is chasing their car down by bike. Some moments are laugh out loud even as the film becomes more frenetic and thrilling as the night goes on for the three boys.
The performances are brilliant. I found RJ Cyler both hilarious as Sean, high on vape, but his character is still incredibly insightful and real. While he does well on his own, it is in the dynamic between him and Donald Elise Watkins as Kunle that the performances come to life. Their friendship and chemistry are rich and nuanced in the hands of the actors. And both have moments to shine, especially Donald Elise Watkins in the powerful performance he gives toward the end of the film and especially in the final scene. They are perfect foils for each other, and their performances bring out the best in the other. Sebastian Chacon, as Carlos, is adept at playing oblivious. While not as dramatic, his performance is warm in his interactions with the character of Emma and hilarious when he tries to intervene between Sean and Kunle. Both Maddie Nichols and Sabrina Carpenter (as Emma and Maddie, respectively) are also excellent, with both of their performances adding to the satire and insight of the film.
There are moments in the film that seem over the top. However, in reality, given the news and experiences of black people at the hands of the police, I ended up finding the scenarios wild but also authentic. To me, it is realistic that Sean would want to avoid the police, not because of his drug use but because of his experiences with the police. Kunle’s reactions are equally valid. And even though the comedic moments can be uneven, the satire is spot on with a thought-provoking ending.
If you like both satirical comedy and thriller films, especially as we race toward the night’s conclusion, I would highly recommend Emergency. Do not expect anything about this wild film, especially the character’s reactions or intense ending. Some moments will make you laugh out loud, but you will also find yourself thinking about race, politics, and bias. And ultimately, the film’s success is how it blends satire with comedy. It is rare to find writing that can make you laugh and think all at the same time. I found the film engrossing and dramatic with a perfect ending. It is a wild, insightful ride that I’m grateful I got to take.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Sirens
Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins) and his best friend, Sean (RJ Cyler), are both seniors in college about to embark on an epic night of Spring Break parties. Sean has the whole night planned out, including every party they will hit on their “legendary tour.” Kunle is down, yet mostly concerned with finishing up his mold experiment in his lab, as his acceptance to Princeton is hinging on the results. They return to their apartment to pre-game, yet find that their roommate, Carlos (Sebastian Chacon), left the door open. As they enter with trepidation, Sean and Kunle discover a drunk, semi-conscious White female they don’t know on the floor and an oblivious Carlos, who didn’t hear her come in over the videogame blaring in his ears. Kunle wants to call the cops but Sean vehemently opposes the idea concerned how it will look when the cops show up (two Black men, one Latino man and a passed out White woman). Together, Carlos, Sean and Kunle load the girl (who they nickname Goldilocks, but whose real name is Emma (Maddie Nichols) into Sean’s van, with the intention of taking her somewhere safe rather than calling the police. Meanwhile, Emma’s sister, Maddy (Sabrina Carpenter), has realized that Emma left the party they were at, and begins to search for her in a drunk panic using Emma’s phone’s location. What ensues is a chaotic, hilarious, and tension-filled chase all over town as our trio grapples with their differences while attempting to bring Emma to safety. EMERGENCY is in theaters and launches on Amazon Prime on Friday, May 27, 2022.
ONE-LINER: Ready for a night of legendary partying, three college students must weigh the pros and cons of calling the police when faced with an unexpected situation.