Guess Whose Coming to Dinner

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Movie Review and Analysis of Communication Styles of the Characters

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner is a 1967 Academy Award-winning comedy-drama film starring Spencer Tracy, Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn, and Katharine Houghton.

The main characters:

Sidney Poitier- Dr. John Wade Prentice
Katharine Houghton- Joanne ‘Joey’ Drayton, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Drayton Katharine Hepburn- Christina Drayton, wife of Matt Drayton Spencer Tracy - Matt Drayton

Other Characters include Monsignor Mike Ryan, family friend of Mr. and Mrs. Drayton, their maid Tillie and Mr. and Mrs. Prentice, parents of Dr. John Wade Prentice.

Plot Summary and Overall Non-Verbal Indicators

The movie concerns Joanna Drayton, a young white American woman (Houghton) who has had a whirlwind romance with Dr. Prentice (Poitier), an African American she met while on a holiday in Hawaii. The two plan to marry and she will return with him to Switzerland. The plot is centered on Joanna’s return to her liberal upper class American home in San Francisco, bringing her new fiancé to dinner to meet her parents, and the reaction of family and friends.

The movie starts with Dr. Prentice visiting Joey’s home to meet her parents. He is a noble, rich, intelligent, handsome, ethical medical expert who serves on United Nations committees when he's not hurrying off to Africa, Asia, Switzerland and all those other places where his genius is required.

The first scene that brings out the strong non-verbal communication used in the movie is the interaction of Dr. Prentice and Joey with Mrs. Drayton’s secretary, Hillary. One can observe the tense expression on Hillary’s face as well as the disbelief and a little bit of contempt in her eyes on hearing the news of Joanne marrying an African-American man. She rarely blinks her eyes and keeps them firmly fixed on Dr. Prentice throughout the scene not registering more than half of the information given to her by Joanne.

On reaching Joey’s home, Dr. Prentice is introduced to the housemaid Dorothy, an African-American lady. She has a stern look on her face and closely scrutinizes Dr. Prentice in silence as if reading his thoughts. She conveys the idea as though she has already analyzed the visitor and passed a judgment on him, disapproving of his intentions. Even in the couple of scenes to follow, Dorothy maintains the stern look on her face portraying her strong disapproval. One can notice the limp handshake between Dr. Prentice and Dorothy signifying that the doctor could not impress her.

This is followed by a still better example of that of the interaction with Mrs. Drayton. Mrs. Drayton takes the news rather well ("Just let me sit down a moment and I'll be all right"), but the intensity of emotions expressed in her eyes is outstanding. She very easily conveys to the audience her state of mind, the conflicts, feeling of shock, her apprehensions, clearly indicating that what she said was a forced effort. The tense face muscles add impact to the expressions. However, she always tries to be friendly to Dr. Prentice throughout her conversation.

The next scene is when the news of the marriage is broken to Mr. Drayton whose calm and friendly disposition is suddenly overcome by a somber, more nervous one which is elucidated during the handshake with Dr. Prentice. Mr. Drayton is totally taken aback by the situation at hand and this has been effectively brought forth through his jittery body language and nervous clasping of his hands. On the other hand, Dr. Prentice also shows his nervousness by the rubbing of hands at the table and the playing around with his sandwich while Joey is the most comfortable character during the scene which is clearly visible through her calm and informal behavior as if no new development has taken place and all the characters are extremely familiar and comfortable with each other.

Mr. Drayton although he is a liberal newspaper publisher...
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