We all know what a Karen is: a loud, nosy, extremely entitled white lady who has never been asked to live outside of her comfort zone, and who demands that the entire world cater to said comfort zone, even as she treads on everyone who gets in her way (which, according to her, is everybody). More often than mot, a Karen will be motivated by racism and bigotry, and will make judgments based entirely upon stereotypes. You’ve seen the bottomless well of freakout videos online, most of which are pure entertainment (and glorious rage bait). For years, no one could say “Karen” without doing an impression of a coked-up Ray Liotta yelling at his wife in Goodfellas, but it seems that this trend has faded. The new Karen, who refuses to wear a mask at Whole Foods or some shit, is the official representation of the name going forward, nice women named Karen notwithstanding.
In Karen, Taryn Manning plays a Karen named Karen who spends the entirety of the film being a huge Karen to her new neighbors Malik and Imani (Cory Hardrict and Jasmine Burke), who had the audacity to…be Black. That’s the bare bones description of the plot right there, and frankly, it doesn’t need to go much deeper than that for the film to make its point. If you’ve seen a single trailer for Karen, you know that subtlety is not the name of the game, and since it’s no secret that Black people face plenty of social hurdles when trying to advance in society, this lack of subtlety allows a movie like Karen to really go big in every way it can.
On the one side of this story you have the titular Karen. She has no personality traits outside of being an angry, entitled racist. I’m not kidding when I say that the only thing motivating Karen throughout the entire movie is her not even remotely obscured racism. She’s a racist, she’s proud of it, and she will literally spend all day pointing security cameras at her neighbors’ house and then all night chain smoking while watching a bank of monitors. She has no job short of her position on the HOA, her brother is a violent maniac of a cop, and she looks A LOT like a Chucky doll. As portrayed in Karen, Karen is a pure, unfettered manifestation of racism.
Malik and Imani are the polar opposite of Karen. They are kind, gainfully employed, and willing to go out of their way to give everyone around them the benefit of the doubt and a helping hand… even to Karen. They are similarly one track minded. When they hang out with friends, they speak in a litany of social justice refrains. When they share pillow talk, they mention how great it is to be with a partner who is so woke. When they comfort one another, they do so by stating how proud they are of the other being so damn socially conscious. They’re very, very good people.
Karen is a cut-and-dry picture of good vs. evil, and in a different movie it might not work. But Karen feels a bit like an exploitation era drama, so the lack of subtlety totally tracks. On the one hand, the didactic presentation of the themes often feels silly, and it makes each and every character one-dimensional. On the other, the fact that racial issues can be depicted through tropes speaks to the pervasive nature of systemic racism. If such hatred weren’t baked into the casserole of American society, these tropes wouldn’t exist. And since Karen seems pretty self-aware (the novelty of a Karen literally being named Karen is not lost on any of the characters), and is about as earnest as movies of its type are apt to get, it allows the audience to enjoy the thrills without losing the heaviness of what’s being explored. All things considered Karen is a very fun movie, and all the right people are going to hate it, especially Karen.
Good. Fuck Karen.
Directed by Coke Daniels
Written by Coke Daniels
Starring Taryn Manning, Cory Hardrict, Jasmine Burke
I cannot find any information on rating or runtime, but I assure you that it’s probably R and runs about 90 minutes in total.