Review of Amazon’s Indie Comedy ‘Emergency’
When we discover someone in the midst of a medical emergency, most of us wouldn’t hesitate to call 911. In Emergency, developed from their Sundance award-winning 2018 short film, director Carey Williams and writer K.D. Dávila remind us things aren’t always quite so simple. Two best friends and college students, return home to find a white girl passed out in their living room. Since the two young men are Black, and their roommate is Latino, their discussion revolves around how the situation will be viewed by paramedics and law enforcement. It’s a terrific premise, and one handled deftly by the filmmakers and cast.
The first act is outstanding as we quickly get a feel for the friendship between Sean (RJ Cyler, The Harder They Fall) and Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins, Free State of Jones). Sean is the fun-loving one who is constantly vaping for effect, but also paranoid and aware. Kunle is the strait-laced son of two African immigrant doctors. Kunle has been accepted to the PhD program at Princeton, while Sean’s big plan is ensuring he and Kunle become the first Black students at Buchannan to attend that evening’s ‘Legendary Tour’ which are invitation-only frat parties held over the course of one night. Kunle wants to hang out with his buddy – just as soon as he finishes with his bacteria specimens (his “babies”) in the campus laboratory.
The early buddy-comedy banter is spot on, and leads us to make assumptions about the type of movie this will be. It’s only after Sean and Kunle stop by the house and discover the girl, that we realize this is a rare buddy-comedy loaded with social commentary. Their gamer-obsessed roommate Carlos (Sebastian Chacon, Angelfish) joins the mission on how best to handle the situation. Carlos catches grief for his fanny pack, which is always filled with granola bars. Sean enjoys teasing Kunle, calling him an “Oreo” for being too white inside, and we hear Kunle described as “Black excellence.” As these three men of color debate the next step – how to provide care to the girl (who has since thrown up on their floor), while also protecting themselves from possibly dangerous racist reactions.
What they don’t know is that while they are arguing, the unconscious girl’s big sister (Sabrina Carpenter) has rallied two friends to go searching. Rather than improve the situation, racial profiling plays a part at just about every turn. The tone of the film shifts when Emma (Maddie Nichols) wakes up and freaks out at the situation. It becomes a comedy of errors in the mode of Adventures in Babysitting (1987), only with fear and risk involved. Two sequences, in particular, stand out: when they stop at Sean’s brother’s house to borrow a car, and when they do finally encounter the cops. Both scenes present the paranoia and constant uneasiness felt in these situations.
When utilizing comedy to express social commentary, there is a fine line between effective messaging and too-obvious. Both of these occur during the film, but for the most part, Williams and Dávila and the cast are superb in making their points without preaching. The commentary on friendship and racism blends well into entertainment, despite the messages never leaving the screen.