MRR Review: "Black Coffee"

Photo Credit: Image Entertainment

Rating: PG
Length: 85 minutes
Release Date: January 10, 2014
Directed by: Mark Harris
Genre: Romantic Comedy / Black Interest

"Black Coffee," the latest effort from writer and director Mark Harris, is a satisfying romantic comedy that both cheers your soul and tickles your funny bone. While romantic comedies revolving around loss and redemption are nothing new, "Black Coffee" manages to carve out a niche for itself through the clever use of dialogue and a family-friendly atmosphere that is marketable to both star-crossed lovers and sentimental families alike. The result is a well-crafted date movie that plays equally well to families seeking inspirational entertainment with a positive kick.

Trouble is brewing for easy-on-the-eyes Robert (Darrin Dewitt Henson) when he loses his comfortable job with his father's business. To add insult to injury, his shady girlfriend Mita (Erica Hubbard) drops a bombshell by informing him that she's packing up and moving out if he doesn't have enough income. This double blow drives Robert to seek the advice of his successful but goofy cousin Julian (Christian Keyes). Playing the role of a wise fool, Julian advises Robert to forget about Mita and tells him about a job opportunity distributing a local coffee brew.

In an effort to clear his head, Robert tries to find comfort at his favorite local bookstore, Duke's. As part of a chance encounter, he bumps into the stunning Morgan (Gabrielle Dennis) and immediately consults with Duke (Richard Gallion), the store owner, about her. Duke cautions Robert not to get involved. He informs him that Morgan is separated and attempting to fix a troubled relationship. However, fate has other plans for Robert when another chance encounter through his coffee distribution route brings him back into Morgan's life.

As sparks begin to develop between Robert and Morgan, outside forces threaten the relationship in the form of Robert's ex-girlfriend Mita and Morgan's separated husband Hill (Lamman Rucker). While Morgan is seeking to repair her marriage, she is slowly coming to the realization that she is falling for Robert. This drives Hill to play dirty to drive a wedge between the new lovers. Sensing a change in the direction of Robert's life, Mita also barges in to reclaim her status as Robert's girlfriend. This leads to a final showdown between the two women with Robert having to make the ultimate choice about his future and happiness.

Already a deft hand at indie film making, Mark Harris delivers his best work yet with "Black Coffee." His previous efforts, most notably "Black Butterfly" and "I Used to Love Her," failed to provide the same level of polish as seen in "Black Coffee." The characters are much more human and "Black Coffee." This translates to a film that inspires as much as it entertains. Some tropes exist in the picture, but the performances by Darrin Dewitt Henson and Gabrielle Dennis manage to transcend cliches and breathe new life into this fun romantic comedy. Although "Black Coffee" doesn't break, it offers up a great movie-going experience.

A primary theme explored by "Black Coffee" is positivity and its influence on upwardly mobile black audiences. The film does a fine job of challenging audience expectations for what black couples seeking love can and should expect, particularly in terms of commitment and romance. Mark Harris has drawn from a pool of talent that is reflective of underused black actors and actresses, and none of the players fall flat in their respective roles.

Darrin Dewitt Henson in particular gives a stand-out performance as Robert, having already honed his skills on Showtime's successful take on the "Soul Food" franchise. Seeing his interpretation of a man as a diamond-in-the-rough endears the audience to the character and encourages others to follow in the same footsteps. His on-screen partner Gabrielle Dennis delivers a warm and likeable performance as love interest Morgan.

The film benefits from the independent eye of its writer and director, offering a realistic view of modern romance. The characters in "Black Coffee" are strong, perhaps a play on the title itself, and easy to relate to. This is owed almost completely to the film's solid indie credentials, and on that level the film reaches out to a broad audience of families and couples alike.

Despite its relatively simple plot, "Black Coffee" is likely the best work yet from Mark Harris. It shows a growing sense of focus and maturity absent from his previous efforts and manages to tug on all the right heart strings at all the right moments. While not directed at all audiences, "Black Coffee" works admirably within its niche and has tremendous market appeal for families seeking quality entertainment and positive role models.

Rating: 3 out of 5