Skip to main content

Emergency Review: A New All-Time Great College Buddy Comedy That Does Its Homework

The genre’s misadventures and miscommunications get a new context.

Sebastian Chacon, Donald Elise Watkins and RJ Cyler in Emergency
(Image: © Amazon Prime)

There’s a long-utilized movie device that works so well, we’ve seen a hundred times before and we’ll see a hundred times again: the buddy comedy. A set of best friends – traditionally one being by-the-book and the other rough-around-the-edges – go on a wild outing guided by a series of mishaps. Property is damaged, unintended violence ensues, and questionable characters are met along the way. Carey Williams’ Emergency is all these things... except it satires it in a way that gets real, real with it. What if two Black college boys find an unconscious white girl in their apartment amidst graduation frat festivities? This buddy comedy takes took a turn that becomes a nail-biting matter of life and death. 

Emergency premiered at the Sundance Film Festival following burgeoning director Carey Williams releasing his short film of the same name during 2018’s SXSW Film Festival (and winning the Grand Jury Award). In its longform version, written by K.D. Dávila, the movie rises to its potential, becoming seriously one of the best versions of a college buddy comedy we’ve ever seen for our generation, all while inviting in all to relevant discussion. 

Emergency has a clever concept that walks a confident line between social relevance and lighthearted humor. 

The movie coming to Amazon Prime follows a mismatched pair with RJ Cyler's confident stoner Sean, and Donald Elise Watkins’ straight-laced and shy science student Kunle. Sean has planned the ultimate frat party tour for the two of them as Kunle nervously worries about his cultures staying cold in his lab. Their plans change when, on the night of the party, they find a blonde girl in bright pink party attire passed out and throwing up in their living room. Kunle reaches for his phone and starts to call the police when Sean stops him to remind him how the cops will look at their situation from their outside perspective. 

The buddy comedy misadventure, with their other roommate Carlos (Sebastian Chacon) a welcomed, funny tag along, centers on their attempts to get the Jane Doe the medical attention she needs without risking their lives for simply being Black men in the wrong place at the wrong time. The setup makes for the perfect way for its filmmakers to examine the realities of systemic racism in modern American law enforcement while still making a genuinely hilarious movie about a pair of college friends’ diametric differences in handling situations. The story goes to some extreme, yet surprisingly palpable places. 

Emergency approaches the intensity of the subject matter with a gentle and outright impressive balance between making its points and being an adrenaline-pumping joyride. The concept is so sound that the satire and ridiculous comedic beats interplay with each other in a way that has you on the edge of your seat at the gaping nightmare of it all and then coasting in comfort a few beats later. 

RJ Cyler And Donald Elise Watkins’ performances are the beating heart at the core of Emergency’s excellence.

Sean and Kunle are developed so authentically as characters, that they never feel like the hundredth and one incarnation of the buddy comedy trope. As viewers experience what unfolds in Emergency, RJ Cyler And Donald Elise Watkins’ performances are so on point that it’s as if we can read their minds in the third act, because we understand their motivations and perspectives so deeply and so well. This is best exemplified by a conversation early in the film when their professor uses a racist profanity during her class and the two have a casual discussion about their course of action following the uncomfortableness.

The buddy comedy of it all becomes elevated in the way that Sean and Kunle act as two opposites in the "to call or not to call the police" scenario as the stakes get higher and higher. Emergency finds a way to reenergize a tried and true genre and make it fresh again, especially through its core friendship. 

Carey Williams' direction is powerful and memorable in Emergency.

Alongside its tight script and playful balance between the drama and comedy is Carey Williams’ incredible direction. It’s effortlessly stylish and cool visually, between the filmmaker illustrating a fantasy-like image of their frat party tour in the beginning of the flick, to an emotionally gripping climax scene that takes viewers into Kunle’s experience from start to finish. 

The beauty of Emergency is how complex and concisely Carey Williams is able to balance a host of characters and their differing perspectives as the movie unfolds. Instead of presenting anyone as a villain, it shows the scope of a systematic issue and how we can fall victim to it, become afraid of it or ignorant of it with even our best intentions at play. It feels like essential viewing with a rare dose of joy, laughter, and empathy thankfully injected into it that elevates it into one of the great movies of this year. 

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.