A racist woman makes it her particular mission to evict the new Black family that has recently moved into the neighborhood, but they will not go down without a fight.
Karen (usually a middle-aged racist white lady not afraid to demand the presence of a manager anytime she is somewhat inconvenienced) is arguably one of the only tantalizing possibilities from all the memes to spin into a movie clumsily. There is a chance to combine social critique and humor into an engaging product. Unfortunately, writer/director Coke Daniels has no idea what to do here, jumping from one storyline to the next without ever indeed exploiting the promise of an on-screen Karen. There are several flaws to bring out here, but the most striking is Karen’s boredom.
Malik and Imani, played by Cory Hardrict and Jasmine Burke, are a proud Black couple who have recently moved into a mainly white suburban neighborhood. Malik and Imani want to live close to Atlanta for Malik to get to work running his community center, which happens to be the home next door to Karen Drexler—played by Taryn Manning, who lacks the drive and personality to bring this character’s nastiness to life.
The storyline is straightforward: Karen is racist, does not want to share the neighborhood with Malik and Imani, and will go to any length to drive them out, even enlisting the help of her similarly racist police officer brother Mike (Roger Dorman). In retribution, the targeted Black lovers seek a civil rights attorney, played by Gregory Alan Williams.
Coke Daniels has no idea what to do with that concept, as Karen will go from attempting to seduce Malik presumably to break up their marriage, sticking her nose into their lives (ammunition to use against them given she is the president of the HOA), hunkering down on security cameras, having Black customers booted out of eateries, and seeming to be in fear when questioned.
If you’re expecting any of those moments to be humorous or serve as a sharp satire, try again. Again, it cannot be emphasized how dead everything is. That includes when Karen interrupts a home party to play the “all lives matter” card.
What’s more, the primary Black characters are poorly written, regularly discussing Black pride and successes but with the mannerisms and delivery of androids. At one point, Imani refers to Malik as her “woke warrior,” which sounds like a line from a social media post. The lived-in credibility of these people to explain such extremes is lacking in a film that takes a grim third-act turn (white supremacist officers are involved, what else would you expect?). In the end, it’s superficial, opportunistic rubbish with nothing to say, which is no better than the two-thirds attempt at parody that came before it.
More perplexingly, Coke Daniels chose to follow Karen for such a long period that it appears as though there is some muddled messaging where he does perceive the character as a sad antihero. There is an attempt to explain why Karen is racist (the most implausible logic possible and nowhere like as jarring as a broken real-life Liam Neeson previously dealing with Black hatred) and enough of her perspective in a difficult situation to make you wonder why. The film is also unclear regarding time and location, as people discuss the current global health catastrophe, but no one in the picture wears a mask.
Karen had one good scene in which Imani meets Karen’s daughter outdoors one morning, who shares none of her mother’s prejudiced inclinations and offers to assist put the rubbish back in the bin. While doing so, they immediately form a relationship when the elementary-aged daughter reveals that she likes a guy but is afraid to tell her mother because he is black.
Consider what these kids must suffer and listen to (Karen also has a basketball-playing teenage son, but each of them is only shown briefly since this film is a dumpster fire with no clue what it wants to achieve) while living with such a hateful woman are the closest the film comes to engaging. That is also only two minutes out of a total of 90. Karen is a colossal waste of time, and you don’t need a boss to tell you that.