You have to feel bad for all the reasonable, decent, goodhearted women named Karen, who until a few years ago never had to think twice about being “Karen” but now must cringe every time there’s another news story or viral video about “a Karen” who is calling the police because people of color are having a picnic in the park, or threatening a Black employee in a big-box store for no reason, or hurling racial insults from her car, etc., etc.
It’s not going to help matters that we now have a feature film called “Karen” that contains no valuable insight or social commentary and simply plays like a Greatest Hits (or should we say Biggest F-Bombs) of horrific, racist, hateful behavior by the title character. This movie is so broad and so poorly executed it comes across as an extended “SNL” parody of a Jordan Peele film — so I’m hoping my review will serve to warn you away from sampling this disaster even as a matter of curiosity. “Karen” is a fictional tale about one of the worst people on the planet, and it’s also one of the worst movies of 2021.
From the opening scene where we see Taryn Manning’s Karen Drexler furiously scrubbing a chalk “BLACK LIVES MATTER” logo from a street, through the first strains of an ominous score straight out of a horror movie, it’s clear there will be little room for subtlety here. “Karen” is set primarily in an upper middle class Atlanta suburban community, where Imani (Jasmine Burke) and her husband Malik (Cory Hardrict) have just moved in and apparently are the first Black family in the entire neighborhood. From the moment Imani and Malik meet their next-door neighbor, a widowed mother of two named Karen, it’s pretty obvious she’s trouble in a bad wig. Karen scolds them about leaving their garbage bin on the curb, says to Imani, “Of all the houses that you could buy, why here?” and installs an elaborate security system around her house, with one camera pointing directly at the new neighbors.
“Wait a minute,” muses Imani. “We have a white, entitled neighbor named Karen?” Sadly, yes.
With flat cinematography giving the proceedings a lower-end, made-for-TV look, we follow Karen around as she engages in one racist act after another. She tells two Black men in a restaurant to keep it down and warns, “If you don’t comply, I’ll tell the manager,” and eventually has them kicked out. As the president of the local household owners’ association, she issues dire warnings about the new residents. At a housewarming party thrown by Imani and Malik, Karen makes a crack about Imani “slaving away in the kitchen” and immediately gets into a heated debate with the guests, saying, “Don’t ALL lives matter?” and complaining how these discussions always come back to slavery, but SHE’S never owned any slaves.
And yes, there’s a moment when Karen crosses paths with three young Black men, says, “Do you mind showing me some ID to prove you live around here?” and then calls the police because she feels threatened — and wouldn’t you know it, Karen’s brother is a racist cop. The heavy-handed approach goes to the next level when we learn about a tragedy in Karen’s past, and the film devolves into a cheap stalker movie when Karen breaks into the neighbors’ house with a gun and yells, “Come on girlfriend, let’s do this!”