2 items from 1997
A long, hot summer in Tennessee Williams country with a Creole family in turmoil, Kasi Lemmons' feature directorial debut focuses beautifully on relationships -- sister-sister, parents-children and mystical-elders-to-troubled-youths. In its use of "magical" voodoo, the film strays from reality, but it engagingly rings true and never fails to impress with its solid filmmaking and richly rewarding performances.
Produced by Caldecott Chubb ("The Crow", "Hoffa") and co-star Samuel L. Jackson, "Eve's Bayou" is one of the classiest items in recent years from distributor Trimark, which should see the worthy project enjoy solid business with discerning black audiences and crossover viewers intrigued by, no-doubt, generally positive reviews.
An actress ("Silence of the Lambs", "Hard Target") and screenwriter, and the wife of filmmaker-actor Vondie Curtis Hall (who plays a small role in the film), Lemmons has a sure and steady hand with actors and the economical-but-evocative style to fashion this moody tale into a literate and sometimes challenging drama with humorous elements that arise naturally from the material.
Narrated by and centered on 10-year-old Eve Batiste (Jurnee Smollett), Lemmons' original scenario quickly reveals the core problem in the otherwise stable lives of Eve and her older sister Cisely (Megan Good). Their country-doctor father Louis (Jackson) is fooling around regularly with patients and old girlfriends, even as he professes true love for his wife Roz (Lynn Whitfield) and otherwise embraces family life.
While Eve and Cisely struggle to cope with knowledge that undermines their love and faith in dad, their mother and aunt Mozelle (Debbi Morgan), Louis' sister, form an allegiance. The latter has a "gift" that allows her to access the spiritual world, a way of seeing the truth in a situation involving physical and metaphysical contact between the priestess and those seeking her healing powers.
Eve and Mozelle spend a lot of time together, and Eve begins to develop her own powers but consults Mozelle's rival Elzora (Diahann Carroll) when the desire for justice overrules family bonds. In the final half-hour of this leisurely paced and loosely plotted film that's never tedious or unduly manipulative, an incident between Louis and Cisely causes a horrific blowup with tragic consequences, but it's not a completely downbeat resolution.
Along with all-around terrific performances -- Jackson has rarely been better and Carroll is excellent in her few scenes -- "Eve's Bayou" is visually rewarding, thanks to cinematographer Amy Vincent, and makes good use of another fine score by Spike Lee's regular composer, Terence Blanchard ("Get on the Bus", "Clockers").
A Chubbco/Addis Wechsler production
A Kasi Lemmons film
Writer-director Kasi Lemmons
Producers Caldecott Chubb, Samuel L. Jackson
Executive producers Mark Amin, Eli Selden,
Nick Wechsler, Julie Yorn
Director of photography Amy Vincent
Editor Terilyn A. Shropshire
Production designer Jeff Howard
Costume designer Karyn Wagner
Music Terence Blanchard
Casting Jaki Brown-Karman,
Robyn M. Mitchell
Eve Batiste Jurnee Smollett
Cisely Megan Good
Louis Samuel L. Jackson
Roz Lynn Whitfield
Mozelle Debbi Morgan
Elzora Diahann Carroll
Running time -- 109 minutes
MPAA rating: R
Attempting to break up the paint-by-numbers feel of most romantic-comedies, " 'Til There Was You" serves up contemporary relationships in an unusually paced blend of drama and humor.
But like the constantly shifting parallel lives of its destined-for-each-other protagonists, the picture's elements never quite intersect despite some pleasing performances and thoughtful direction.
Given the current crowded slate of moviegoing options, Paramount will likely have to wait 'til there's video for the film to find a supportive audience.
As with all instances of the genre, we know from the outset that Gwen Moss (Jeanne Tripplehorn) and Nick Dawkan (Dylan McDermott) are meant for each other no matter how many plot points would appear to conspire against them. Of course, the novelty is always in the placement of the various obstacles that stand in the way of true happiness. In their case, the roadblocks are considerable.
She's an unlucky-in-love ghost writer who's struggling to keep her own sense of identity from doing a vanishing act. He's an ambitious architect who's a bit of a cad in the commitment department. She's a hopeless romantic who clings to the love-at-first-sight ideals of her parents. He's an emotional shut-in who has revamped his background to bury an unhappy childhood.
While they never truly come face to face until the end of the film, the crazed orbits of their seemingly opposing lives begin to find a common path with the arrival of Francesca Lanfield Sarah Jessica Parker in another great comedic performance), a former "Brady Bunch-esque" child star who is looking to write her life story (enter Gwen) and for a new warm body (enter Nick). Not to mention the fact that Francesca just happens to own La Fortuna, the idyllic, historic garden apartment complex into which Gwen has just moved and which Nick's firm is planning to raze.
Initially charming, all the ensuing wild coincidence and near misses begin to take their toll. Making his feature directorial debut, Scott Winant ("My So-Called Life", "thirtysomething") demonstrates a smart visual sense and has coaxed some warm, winning performances from his ensemble, but ultimately he's unable to overcome screenwriter Winnie Holzman's mopey, tediously introspective script.
Among the acting contributions, Tripplehorn delivers on the chance to show a seldom-seen funny side; while McDermott finally makes the romantic lead leap with his most appealing turn to date. But it's the always terrific Parker who is particularly wonderful this time as the self-involved Francesca, a k a Taffy, who spent puberty in front of millions of viewers on "One Big, Happy Family" and continues to pay the price. Michael Tucker also has his moment in a shocking bit of revelation that stands as the film's funniest scene.
Tech credits are strong, although the score, composed in part by the late Miles Goodman and Terence Blanchard, is a poor fit. Most often heard in Spike Lee films, Blanchard's signature low-key jazz style does no favors for the picture's already languid pace.
'TIL THERE WAS YOU
Paramount Lakeshore Entertainment and Paramount Pictures
present a Penney Finkelman Cox production
Executive producers:Sigurjon Sighvatsson, Ted Tannebaum
Director of photography:Bobby Bukowski
Production designer:Craig Stearns
Editors:Richard Marks, Joannna Cappuccilli
Music:Miles Goodman and Terence Blanchard
Francesca:Sarah Jessica Parker
Sophia Monroe:Nina Foch
Running time -- 114 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13
2 items from 1997
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