us

I admire Jordan Peele’s sophomore directorial effort for a lot of reasons, chief among them its overstuffed grab bag of fierce, pointed ideas. In Us, Peele heaves weighty social commentary concepts like chunks of glistening coal into an already well-stoked locomotive engine. His approach makes it a challenge to pin down his primary thesis, but I think that might be the point. A sweet, comfortable family is attacked by mysterious doppelgängers, initiating a wave of terror that thematically touches on class divisions, cultural appropriation, historic colonialism, the chilling creep of personal impostor syndrome, and a host of other corroded shards of the messy democratic experiment that is the U.S. of A. It’s as if Peele is arguing that all the sins of history have contributed equally to this moment in time, and, try as we might, the damage can’t be simply hidden away and forgotten. It will surface, and there will be a reckoning. Carrying the load of such wild complexity requires acting performances of equally fearless invention. As many laudable turns as the film holds — including edgy, inspired work from Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, and young newcomers Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex — they all jockeying for no better than second-best behind the fierce brilliance of Lupita Nyong’o. In the critical leading role (or, well, roles), Nyong’o is impeccable, operating with a fine precision that sets the perfect baseline for the film’s shifting sympathies and upended perspectives. She dazzles with the sharpness of her craft and is the integral contributor to making the fantastical perfectly, painfully real. Us could have easily broken apart and gone careening over in countless directions. The firm focus of Peele and the grounding influence of Nyong’o keep its forward movement steady and true.

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