IN SHORT: Cute and funny and just a shade long.
In my review of A Thousand Acres, I nailed that movie for using narration poorly, to tell a story rather than letting the intervening scenes show what was happening. This week, we have just the opposite; a film that uses the narration to comment on and bridge the gaps in a sweet but meandering tale of a large family.
Clocking in at just under two hours, Soul Food is the story of three sisters and their families; of a 40 year tradition of Sunday dinner and the mother that has held it all together while the grownup kidlings fight it out. When ma gets taken down by diabetes, the family falls apart and it's up to the eleven year old Ahmad (Brandon Hammond), who narrates the flick, to pull 'em all back together again.
It's a real "feel good" flick, with workable performances by all involved and some very funny writing. Though the very pale Cranky had to sit until the very end for the logical explanation of why the movie is called Soul Food -- I would've called it "Sunday Dinner," but then I'm known for being particularly uncreative -- there was absolutely nothing to be missed because of the racial difference between Cranky in the seat and the African Americans onscreen. Nothing. Don't let it be an excuse to stay away. Family is family and funny is funny and Soul Food has plenty of both.
The dish on the three sisters is this: Sister number one, Teri, is a money obsessed white collar lawyer (Vanessa Williams) whose lawyer hubbie would rather be a musician. Sister number two, Bird, is a blue collar hairstylist (Nia Long) running a shop opened with money from the former whose new husband has done time. Sister number Last, Maxine (Vivica Fox), is a happily married mom of two. Her hubby used to date Sister Number one, so there's a lot of tension there.
Things are tense enough between the sisters that a gentle nudge - - the entrance of "exotic" dancer cousin Faith (Gina Ravera) is enough to split open old wounds when a mother's healing love is forced into a hospital bed. The stories that play out onscreen aren't very deep, but there are a ton of 'em and they don't get out of hand. Enough keeps happening, and the dialog is sparkling enough that the collective funnybone of the sneak audience I sat with got whacked more than once.
Irma P. Hall plays Mother Joe, setting the main stories up. Michael Beach of TV's "er" is the music loving hubbie, and both actors should be acknowledged. The only fault with Soul Food is that it runs half an hour or so longer than feels "right". That's a very subjective thing but hey, my gut is my gut and that's how it felt.
Finally, don't walk into Soul Food on an empty stomach, 'cuz the food shots of the family dinners look better than the ones in TV commercials. Mmm mmm good.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Soul Food, he would have paid...
Date flick? Yep. You could wait for the rental but if the theater crowded you'll have a much better time laughing along with a couple of hundred temporary friends.
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