Life wasn’t really a comedy, was it? The cast may have been littered with some of the great comedians of a generation, alongside a host of other formidable actors and musicians, many funny in their own rights… but to limit its genre to comedy or even comedy, crime and drama (like it’s IMDb page) is a misrepresentation of what it was really about, or at least too narrow of an interpretation.
Life the movie was about life lessons and overcoming obstacles. For example, All the failed escaped attempts showed resilience. The “I’m Da Pappy” scene, where the inmates all claimed paternity of a mixed child, who happened to be the grandchild of the sheriff, was a show of comradery. Ray’s Boom Boom Room was even about making the best out of whatever situation you were in, and having a dream!
Throughout the film, Ray and Claude find themselves in messed up predicament after messed up predicament. The movie even starts with Ray (Eddie Murphy) and Claude (Martin Lawrence) traveling down to Mississippi in pursuit of moonshine and a “lucrative business opportunity” in order to pay back a Harlem Hustler named Spanky. This just happens to be where they get framed for the murder of a local card hustler and convicted by the racist judicial system of the South.
Throughout the film, Ray and Claude seemed to have an uncanny ability to find trouble. They also had a great way of imparting knowledge to the audience (me and you) while in the midst of said trouble. Perhaps one of the most important lessons they taught us occurred when Ray got his ass whipped over a piece of cornbread.
First, let me set the scene. Claude and Ray were new to the plantation and an extraordinarily large man asked Claude for his cornbread. Claude, apparently not the most street-savvy (this incident is reminiscent of kids asking what size were your sneakers in middle school), was more than willing to appease the not-so-gentle giant. Ray stopped the transaction from occurring and found himself faced with the same dilemma he had just saved Claude from: to eat your cornbread or to not eat your cornbread; that is the question. Ray chose the former and the pummeling soon followed.
The fight was mostly one-sided, although I saw Ray land a couple of hooks, and Ray definitely got that ass whooped, but he still fought. That’s what really mattered. He stood up for what was his. Against all odds, he decided that on that day, at that moment, no matter the odds against him, that he wouldn’t allow fear or anything else to force him to cower. Not only did he show that for himself he attempted to instill that knowledge in his friend. Remember that, “He ain’t get my cornbread Claude” line. Broken and bloody, he remembered what was important and in doing so had earned the respect of his fellow inmates.
Life (April 16, 1999):
Director: Ted Demme