“Breaking In” disappoints in significant ways

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Released just in time for Mothers’ Day, one promotional slogan read. But why? “Breaking In,” starring Gabrielle Union has little to do with Mothers’ Day, except that Union’s character (Shaun Russell) is a mom of two. Another slogan for the movie reads, “Payback is a mother.” Clever plays on the word (and idea) of “Mother” aside, there was little to engage audiences.

“Breaking In”– what went wrong

In short, quite a bit. The plot is thin. The characters’ depth and their relationship to each other even thinner. The opening rivets audiences because the character is a wealthy, elderly black man. He starts out for a jog. A great deal of attention is placed on the song he hears and the care with which he places ear buds in his ears. There seems to be only his perspective to consider. So, when he is killed a few minutes in, audiences have to find another way to orient themselves. That is when audiences find out he has an estranged daughter (Shaun) who is married and has two kids. Oh, yeah. He also has some property in Wisconsin. His daughter will have to go there and sell the property (where she allegedly grew up) after his violent demise.

Everything feels surface. On its own, each facet about a character has potential. But after a while, it felt as if the movie was just a bunch of character and idea sketches set into the frame of a movie. It doesn’t seem fair to Union or any of the others.

The only setting is the house. Audiences are not allowed to see any of the scenes that would have linked the criminals to the protagonist’s father. She also never seemed the least bit sad that her father was dead. She didn’t have to agree with his white collar crime, but since he hadn’t harmed her, the coldness toward him seemed weird.

Speaking of the criminals, things get interesting when they show up. Shaun talks more to them than it seemed she had her own father. The criminals provide the backstory, but the one sentence rendering of events was awkward, and constituted telling and not showing. Also, as the movie’s bad guys, how are audiences to take their word as truth?

“Breaking In” didn’t feel more fully realized once the bad guys started to get their payback. For one, the scene in which one criminal is run over by a full-sized pickup truck is rendered unbelievable because he doesn’t die. Not only doesn’t he perish, but he is amorous after his ordeal and ready to rape a teenage girl.

“Breaking In”– what worked

Because it is a movie with a black family at its center, there was potential for portrayals in “Breaking In” to become stereotypical, but they didn’t. There was no inner-city setting, no gang involvement. Just a family who could have been any American family. At least that aspect of the movie worked.

I wanted “Breaking In” to work on a larger scale. For so many reasons, I had high hopes for it. And, I was suckered by the previews. I am still not sure why it was a big deal to release this movie in time for Mothers’ Day weekend. There are far better gifts than the admission to this film.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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