Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Review)

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
dir. Stanley Kramer
starring: Sidney Poitier, Katherine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy

Pre-Viewing Comments
My score largely reflects the entertainment value of the film. I think the film will satisfy many of you in terms of providing good dramatic entertainment. But don’t go into the film expecting a deep or complex analysis of racism and interracial marriage.

Plot summary
Basically, a white girl and a black man meet (in Hawaii) and decide to get married. She invites him home to meet her parents (her father a liberal editor of a newspaper).

Post-Viewing Comments

As an entertaining drama, this film gets high marks for me. The film moves at a good pace, and I liked the way the film moved from one dramatic moment to the another: Joanna (Katherine Houghton) is really confident that her parents will have no problem with the marriage-, but how will her mother and fatherr eally react? John (Sidney Poitier) tells Joey’s parents that he will not marry Joey without their blessing, will they eventually give their blessing? Joanna invites John’s parents to fly up from LA for dinne, how will they react to the announcement and how will both families interact at dinner?

The acting was also very good. Hepburn and Tracy show why they were so compelling on screen, and I believe Hepburn won an Academy or at least was nominated for her performance.

However, as a serious examination of racism, the film gets low marks. I felt the film didn’t deeply explore racism within the characters. For example, the film would have been more interesting if there were more complexity in Matt Drayton’s (Spencer Tracy) disapproval of the marriage. In the film, he mainly could not support the marriage because the couple would have too difficult a life, not because he just didn’t like the idea of a black man marrying his daughter. The film would have been more interesting if it went in that direction.

I also had mixed feelings about the ending. Mr. Drayton gives a pretty good speech about why he eventually supports the marriage. I liked the way they shot the scene with a profile of Tracy and a frontal shot Hepburn, clearly seeing her reaction to Tracy’s proclamtion that he hasn’t forgotten what it means to truly love someone. (With Tracy and Hepburn’s real life past, the scene was even more poignant.)

However, the speech is not entirely convincing to me. What’s worst is that Mr. Prentice (Roy Glenn), John’s father, doesn’t really say anything except look uncertain and troubled. He’s feelings and position is swept under the rug.

In a way the film is a lot like A Few Good Men. Both films are really entertaining and move along at a good pace. But both films don’t do a very good job of exploring serious questions. In Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, the question is how liberal-minded people when it comes to their daugther marrying a black man? In A Few Good Men, the question is how do we deal with the tension between the need for national security and civilized behavior. The filmmakers use those issues just to create dramatic situations, but not to deal with the issus in any serious or realistic way.

On a side note, in the dialogue Joanna and John frequently talk about their meeting in Hawaii. I couldn’t help but feel that that was a point of emphasis because Hawaii is known for a place of racial harmony and a high rate of interracial marriage.

2 Responses to “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (Review)”

  1. pen

    It has been awhile since I’ve seen Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, but I remember that I kept thinking, what does John (Sidney Poitier’s character) see in Joanna? She was so young and seemingly kind of frivolous and he was this older, accomplished man. It was quite distracting, because every time it seemed that Joanna had to justify her attraction to John (which in my mind was quite clear) and yet John never really said (to the best of my recollection) what he saw in Joanna.

    Yes, I understand that I am viewing a movie made in 1967 with a “modern” mentality, but it was distracting nonetheless. On the bright side, I really liked the interaction between Joanna’s parents and their struggles, not only with their self-perceptions not easily coinciding with their visceral feelings, but also regarding their own relationship.

    A movie I would highly recommend that will spark great conversation about race and racism is Crash, directed by Paul Haggis. It’s the 2004 movie starring Don Cheadle, Sandra Bullock and Ludacris, among others. If I still taught political science, it would definitely be on the syllabus.

  2. Reid


    John says that when he talked with Joanna she made him feel joy again, while prior to meeting her he felt like he would never be able to love anyone. John also says about Joanna that she doesn’t see or understand any difference between blacks and whites. Besides that Joanna is physically attractive and vivacious–she really has a zest and enthusiasm and a positive outlook that borders on naivete, but it’s not without charm. She doesn’t seem like an airhead either.

    I agree about Crash!. I wish I had written a review after I saw the film because I can’t remember a lot of details now.

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