Between this movie and Ghostbusters, I’m pretty sure my roommates have seen each about 15 times since they moved in with me in August. This is me saying I’m the worst roommate ever, or best depending on whether or not you agree that Coming to America is one of the best comedies ever.
For those people who haven’t seen Coming to America, first of all, how dare you, secondly, here’s a brief recap. Prince Akeem (Eddie Murphy) of Zamunda has turned 21 and unlike most movies that tell you it’s time to get wasted and make some choices you’ll regret in the name of youth (not that there’s anything wrong with this), he is getting bored of and stifled by his royal lifestyle and feeling most trapped by his impeding arranged marriage.
His family and friends are confused by his reluctance to accept an arranged marriage. Akeem asks his friend and servant, Semmi, “you would share your bed and your fortune with a beautiful fool?” Semmi (Arsenio Hall) drops some truth in a patriarchal reality, “that is the way it has always been with men of power. It is tradition.” Even though his betrothed is beautiful and presented in the most spectacular way possible (and honestly, the best entrance in any movie ever):
Who wants to marry me, so I can walk out to that song? Any takers?
Meanwhile, Akeem is not impressed.
I want a woman who will arouse my intellect as well as my loins.
His search for this elusive woman brings him to the most obvious place for a future royal bride, Queens. Semmi and Akeem rid themselves of their princely garb as Akeem is determined to find a woman who will love him for him.
As far of the rest of the story goes, it’s fairly predictable. Akeem meets a woman, Lisa, and falls in love with her. There are obstacles in the form of a boyfriend, his refusal to use his actual wealth and experience, and the interference of their friends and family. All works out in the end, and Prince Akeem of course is united with Lisa, who is wearing perhaps the best, most ’80s wedding dress ever on film.
The movie endures as a comedy classic not because of the formulaic rom-com at the core of the story, but because of the many hilarious characters and bits that happen along the way. With classic comedy director John Landis at the helm, and Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall playing multiple characters in the movie, the movie is full of charm and perfect comedic bits. Yes, it’s at sometimes a little uneven, and yes, the end starts to drag a little, but every time a character makes a crack about New York, or Eddie Murphy hams up the “fish out of water”-ness of his Prince Akeem, you can’t help but laugh. Every time a character breaks the fourth wall (even the dog), you laugh. Every character is great, even the random background extras.
The whole club scene is great (and honestly, presents more variety of black female personalities than most movies now).
All the side characters are great. All of them, even Louie Anderson as the blindly hopeful McDowell’s employee and Elaine Kagan as the incredulous telegram lady.
Before The Klumps and Norbit ruined the joy of multi-Eddie Murphy roles, we had Randy Watson and Sexual Chocolate, which is good and terrible.
Coming to America endures not just because it’s a solid comedy. It also speaks to experiences that are still rarities in cinema, much less in comedy: immigrant stories, middle class black families, and successful African nations (unlike the white-savior narratives we usually see). These are groups that are still marginalized within broader cinematic representation, so the representation that does exist, continues to do so in a strangely powerful way.
The subways and streets are as diverse as New York actually is, not like the Friends/Girls/Sex and the City versions of New York. I was living in Queens when this movie came out, and by living, I mean learning to hold my head up on my own and poop in a diaper. Queens Boulevard, Jackson Heights and Jamaica Estates are all areas that I know well. The movie speaks to so many specific experiences with New York that it’s no wonder that it is beloved. This movie feels like New York.
Now that we got the enduring comedy and quiet subversiveness of Coming to America, out of the way, let’s refocus on what’s really important.
Darryl’s (Eriq La Salle) perfectly ridiculous fashion sense:
Coming to America is on Netflix Instant and Amazon Instant Video, so I assume you all have plans for later tonight.