A modern-day prodigal son story with a twist. It follows Patrick, a magazine writer, who seems to have the "perfect life," until one day, there is a knock at the door. On the other side stands a secret that brings him face to face with the traditional southern family he hasn't seen in over 10 years.
After ten years, Sheldon returns from New York City to Paris, Georgia. His mother Evelyn, a laundress who is stubborn, ornery, opinionated, mean-spirited, insulting, and inflexible, has sent a ten-year-old boy who says he's Sheldon's son up to see Sheldon. Sheldon comes home to straighten things out. Old arguments flare up - between mother and son and between brothers. Sheldon wants no part of fatherhood or family. Then, someone else from New York shows up at Evelyn's door, bringing a new set of challenges. Will this family ever stop airing its dirty laundry? And what of Sheldon: where is his pride? Can he, in the words of James Baldwin, go where his blood beats and live the life he has? Written by
Coming Home and Facing Truths in a Laugh-Fueled, Southern-Fried Family Dramedy
I got the chance to see a rough cut of writer/director/actor Malcolm Jamal's film at the Castro Theatre during the 2006 San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Film Festival. As an openly gay black man, he lends a particularly unique and contemporary perspective on the Prodigal Son parable with this tale of a class-conscious New York-based magazine writer whose discovery of a ten-year old son leads him back to the family he left behind years ago in his hometown of Paris, Georgia. Those who have seen Cameron Crowe's "Elizabethtown" or Harvey Fierstein's "Torch Song Trilogy" will recognize the fish-out-of-water comedy that dominates the first half of the movie. However, the movie gradually congeals into a more resonant drama of acceptance and forgiveness without foregoing the humor.
Despite his bare-bones production budget and a sometimes too facile approach to easy laughs, Jamal has a keen eye for his Deep South setting and especially his characters that manage to sidestep stereotypical treatment. What I particularly like about the family interactions is how Jamal chooses to emphasize the son's elitism that has alienated the family, not as much his sexual orientation. Rockmond Dunbar brings a sympathetic core to the uptight son, Patrick in his current life but Sheldon to his family. However, it's Loretta Devine who shines as his mother Evelyn, a hardened, alcoholic washerwoman who holds her own secrets and rails against her son with fervor. She seizes a great movie moment as she delivers a near-soliloquy at the dinner table near the end. With her foghorn, female-impersonator delivery, veteran scene-stealer Jenifer Lewis plays judgmental Aunt Lettuce with her usual gusto and provides the film's biggest laughs.
Most of the cast is terrific - Terri J. Vaughn's supportive sister Jackie, Filipino comedian Alec Mapa as the overzealous metrosexual friend, Sommore's throaty turn as the sassy daughter-in-law, and Jamal's own performance as Sheldon's straight, dim-bulb brother who runs the local butcher shop. The one major fly in the ointment is Joey Costello who comes across far too flighty and naïve as Patrick's partner Ryan. The film has a too-pat though forgivable ending. In a concluding Q&A, Jamal said he just filmed the production in April and is touring this movie in select major cities in special showings through the summer. He hopes for a Christmas release at which point I say check it out. Jamal is a most idiosyncratic comedy talent.
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