The path to “The World We Make” is paved with patronizing, heavy-handed and somewhat retro good intentions.
It’s a modern day inter-racial romance set in that corner of suburban Nashville that hasn’t turned a calendar page since, oh, 1975. The film stumbles all over the place when it’s not stumbling over its own awkard, clumsy attempts to make something modern that emerges from a seriously retrograde place.
“World We Make” has faith-based filmmakers behind it, and it is to their eternal embarassment, if not shame, that they treat this idea as if the Bob Jones University lawsuits over interracial dating was happening today, and not in the 1970s.
Yes, a lot of people think that way and it might be worth revisiting the subject in a serious way. But “erious” should not be confused with “mature” or smart in this picture, whose “modern” veneer will feel modern only to those who missed decades of memos on the state of the culture.
Rose Reid (“I’m Not Ashamed”) and Caleb Castille (“Woodlawn”) are the two very attractive stars in this melodrama set in Tennessee horse country.
Jubilee Grove (Reid) goes by “Lee” for obvious reasons, a rising high school senior who teaches kids about horses and riding at the family horse (hobby) farm, an operation she runs with her older brother, Casey (Richard Kohnke). Dad (Kevin Sizemore) bought the place for their mom, and since she died, he’s burrowed into classic car restoration.
Lee’s life hasn’t found its purpose, though a therapist who uses horses with her patients might be a hint to her future.
Casey, though, has come up with the idea that they’ll take their two favorite horses and travel cross-country, old school and on horseback, an “epic challenge,” something that could render them into what their dad has counseled them to be — “a person of distinction.”
But Casey is killed in a car wreck. His high school pal, Jordan (Castille) comes by to help out, shoveling out stalls and heaving “hay cubes.” And quite abruptly, a friendship between the college athlete and the ponytailed high school beauty turns into something more.
It’s an indication of how tin-eared the three writers behind this are that they have Lee suggest Jordan play basketball with her little brother.
Why, because I’m black?
Well, maybe because you’re an ATHLETE?
The whole point of such an exchange is playing up black “touchiness” about the subject of race, and devaluing black victimhood. It’s so patronizing as to make you wince.
There’s no problem from Lee’s dad or brother. But Jordan’s father (Gregory Alan Williams) can’t be told about this romance . And the pretty teen from his neighborhood (Candace West) is here to lecture Lee on how “woke” she isn’t, and how dating this guy won’t “east your white guilt.”
West, of “Nobody’s Fool,” practically grits her teeth, having to spout such stupid lines.
There are promising ingredients to the story, Jordan’s business school/”statistically speaking” brains, Lee’s grasping at anyone who both reminds her of her brother and allows her to get away without properly mourning him.
The leads don’t set off much in the line of sparks, which is just as well. Classmates, local business owners, fellow diners in a restaurant and when push-comes-to-shove, a local cop, all are profiling Jordan and giving Lee an eyeful of the “different worlds” they come from and their different experience of the world they share.
That’s as “progressive” as “The World We Make” gets. Lee spouting nonsense like “We’re a lot more progressive than that. We’ve had a black president.” will get a lot of head-nodding from viewers who hear versions of those lines on Fox News 24/7.
“Is this what it’s always going to be like?” feels like a line from a ’70s movie, and a lot more could have been made out of the fact that it isn’t.
Yes, racism thrives, especially in small towns in the South. But such relationships barely reach the raised-eyebrow level of outrage among anyone under 70, these days.
Moments like that make “The World We Make” hopelessly out of date, and even more out of date for the fact that the folks making it don’t realize that in the first place.
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic material and brief violence
Cast: Rose Reid, Caleb Castille, Gregory Alan Williams, Kevin Sizemore, Candace West
Credits. Directed by Brian Baugh, script by Brian Baugh, Chris Dowling, George D. Escobar. A Netflix release.
Running time: 1:49