Oh, 'Corrina, Corrina,' Why Can't You Be True?
In a reprise of her real-life cross-racial relationship with Ted Danson, Whoopi Goldberg stars "Corrina, Corrina" as the yin to Ray Liotta's yang. As the ever-helpful, racially suppressed and mischievous maid Corrina (pronounced Core-ee-na), Goldberg delivers what is a lackluster performance.
This is to compare her to her other roles such as the moving "The Color Purple" or hilarious "Jumpin' Jack Flash." In "Corrina, Corrina," she is an underplayed version of her true self. As expectation would have it, she would push beyond the role as it was written and create something extraordinary from the mundane. But she doesn't reach that point. Throughout the film I kept waiting for a moment or two of Whoopi as the insightfully funny or pointedly wicked, but she only serves to fulfill what has been written for her and nothing more.
Perhaps responsive to this, Ray Liotta, who mastered the guise of the Irish-turned-Italian Mafioso in "Goodfellas," was also nothing extraordinary. He plays the recently widowed Manny Singer who is busily trying to piece his life back together after his wife's death. Symbolic of the glazed-over, plastic, "Leave It to Beaver"-esque tone of this film, Manny Singer writes the music and lyrics for toy company advertisements. Perhaps you've always wondered who did this sort of thing, but the 1950,s setting makes this film cheesy, alleviating the more apparent, and perhaps interesting, struggle for racial equality and the problems involved with cross-racial love.
Tina Majorino is the only actor who really shines in this movie, and it will be to her credit if the movie succeeds in the box office. As Molly Singer, she misses her mother desperately but finds a quick affection for Corrina, the only person who is able to bring her out of her self-imposed muteness. Majorino exudes the sadness, the confusion, the innocence and the joy of what it means to be a child. Majorino made her film debut opposite Meg Ryan and Andy Garcia in "When a Man Loves a Woman." This film proves that she is capable of serious drama as well as the more light-hearted comedy which is "Corrina, Corrina."
You can tell she thinks about the situations her character is in and intelligently communicates in through her expressive face. Majorino inevitably reminds me of another Shirley Temple. Cute, funny, while capable of serious emotion, I only hope she is able to break the glass ceiling which prevents so many childhood actors from continuing with their careers.
While "Corrina, Corrina" is generally entertaining, it seems a bit farfetched. Cross-racial relationships have become much more acceptable now than they would have been in the '50's. The film shows the irritation of Corrina's family with her ultimate choice to be involved with Manny, and his nosy neighbor makes it clear that she does not approve. But I could not help but think that while cross-racial relationships must have occurred then, this film is a bit of revisionist history. Or perhaps it's merely the hopes and wishes of a little girl who loves her maid and father and misses having a mother.
The film begins from Molly's perspective, but quickly loses that vantage point. Since the film does not consistently follow Molly's viewpoint, it does not convince the viewer to suspend his or her concept of reality and accept the fact that this is just Molly's wishes. It would have been an interesting and quirky look into the issue of race if her perceptions had been followed throughout. Then it would have offered an innocent, wishful outlook, perhaps a guide for us all to see each other through a child's eyes, to see others as people not colors. As the film has been made it seems like an unbelievable love affair, leaving the viewer skeptical instead of hopeful.
With the mechanism of the child supported by Majorino's entertaining portrayal, the film might provoke little kids to consider the subject of race. But it ultimately leaves an insincere and unrealistic view for children to consider. If the director Jessie Nelson had made the film either more imaginative and sustained molly's vantage point, or made it more serious, giving it a more realistic ending, then the film would be better. As it is, it sits the fence between imagination and reality, and as a result settles for mediocrity.