Elliot Anderson (Kevin Costner) is a very successful lawyer living the good life. But when we meet him it is one of the worse days of his life. His wife has been killed in an auto accident and he must now break the news to his granddaughter, Eloise (Jillian Estell), who they have raised since the death of their daughter. Things get complicated when Eloise’s paternal grandmother, Rowena (Octavia Spencer) petitions for custody. Did I mention that Elliot is white and Rowena is black?
A fine attempt at conveying the message that a child is best molded when love is the main ingredient, “Black or White” relies mostly on coincidence and disbelief to succeed. When Rowena and her extended family visit Elliot’s home after the funeral, Rowena scolds him for never inviting her family over to swim in his pool. Rowena, et all live in Compton. But in a very nice part of Compton. Rowena talks a good game but really, the only difference I can see between her neighborhood and Elliot’s is that Elliot’s has more pools per square inch. We also learn that Rowena is a successful businesswoman with multiple achievements. Why hasn’t she moved from Compton? Things get even worse for Elliot when Eloise’s father shows up and joins the custody case.
Kevin Costner has grown into a fine character actor. Here he plays Elliot as a man who loves his granddaughter but also loves his liquor. Rowena accuses him of being an alcoholic but actually he’s just sad. He’s already lost two women in his life and faces losing a third. Spencer gives Rowena a coolness that makes her endearing…not the caricaturistic “black granny” (see: Tyler Perry’s Medea). But credit is also due to the youngest members of the cast. Estell is cute but smart as Eloise and Mpho Koaho almost steals the film as the young math tutor that works with both Eloise and Elliot. Anthony Mackie and Andre’ Holland also do well as Rowena’s brother/attorney and Eloise’s father, respectively. The script, written by director Binder, tries to say too much, and in doing so, loses some of its charm.