By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.
I love Jason Mitchell and was excited to screen this film but just slightly disappointed. The materials peg it with tag lines: “When You’re The Only One” and “This Year’s Answer to Get Out,” but there wasn’t any ominous undercurrent riding in this film—just what I call white boys partying and telling off-handed jokes. But there is a Donald Trump piñata—without any goodies. And there is a white dog, whose owner seems to trail it around on a leash that appeared to be tied in a noose at the end.
“Tyrel” follows Tyler, played by Mitchell, who joins his friend on a trip to the Catskills for a weekend birthday party with several people he doesn’t know. As soon as they get there, it’s clear that (1) he’s the only Black guy, and (2) it’s going to be a weekend of heavy drinking. Although Tyler is welcomed, he can’t help but feel uneasy in “whitesville.” The combination of all the testosterone and alcohol starts to get out of hand, and Tyler’s precarious situation starts to feel like a nightmare. I didn’t actually see a nightmare but the “whitesville” characterization is accurate. Tyler is the only Black guy there, and some of the others in the lot definitely have their racial preferences. Although Johnny and Tyler are friends, sometimes I think he is trying to get Tyler drunk on one strong drink or another—whether it be a hot toddy or Irish coffee. This group always drinks, and Tyler seems alert enough to know that he should feel uncomfortable. This reference, in my opinion, points to scenes of drinking tea in “Get Out.”
Press materials state that “while feelings of unease grow with every drink poured, the precarious situation forces him [Tyler] to re-examine how he fits in, both on the weekend getaway and within society. His dread quickly turns to palpable waves of paranoia as he begins to question those around him, the cornerstones of masculinity, and his role as the only Black man.”
The guys are also always playing games. Whether they be outside or a drinking game inside where one takes a shot, bangs on the table and slaps the other guy across the face. One in particular is where they recite a sentence using different dialects. And not surprisingly, Tyler is charged with using the accent of an old, Black lady from New Orleans. There is talk of black holes and then Michael Cera who plays Alan shows up with his privileged self in a black wetsuit, telling Tyler that now he isn’t the only Black guy there. Cera is good in his role and delivers sharp, cocky dialogue. I love Cera, but I always connect him to the film “Juno.”
“Tyrel” isn’t an “ on the edge of your seat” thriller, but it does provide social commentary on the difference between how white guys have fun in the woods and how the lone Black guy in the crowd tries to keep up with the drinking and foolishness, against his better judgment.
Others in the film are Christopher Abbott as Johnny and Caleb Landry Jones as Pete. This is another film under Mitchell’s belt. Other appearances include “Straight Outta Compton,” “SuperFly,” “Mudbound,” “Kong: Skull Island” and Showtime’s “The Chi,” among others.
“Tyrel” is available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital. For more information, visit https://www.tyrelmovie.com/.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is the Entertainment Editor for the Chicago Crusader newspaper. She is also the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood–South Side of Chicago.” For book info, email@example.com.