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SOUL FOOD

SYNOPSIS:
Sunday evenings are very special at the home of Mother Joe (Irma P. Hall). The matriarch of a large, often embattled clan, Mother Joe presides over a 40 year tradition of extensive, elaborate Sunday afternnon family dinner gatherings. Fried chicken, sweet cornbread, smokd ham and deep-dish peach pie . . . Her three daughters (Vanessa Williams, Vivica A. Fox, Nia Long) help prepare the feast each week – but they and their husbands aren’t making things easy. One is a succees, a clever lawyer; her husband is also a lawyer but has his heart set on a musical career; the middle sister is, as she likes to point out, "a successful wife and mother’, but is the wildest of the three. The youngest is newly married to an ex-convict and has just opened her own beauty salon. The arguments, over money, husbands, the past, the present, the future – anything – rise and fall like waves. Then there’s the reclusive Uncle Pete (John M. Watson snr), living hidden away in his room. He, too, is the cause of argument. Finally, there is young Ahmad (Brandon Hammond), the narrator of the story, who has a special bond with Mother Joe, his grandmother, whose influence is the glue that keeps the whole family together, despite its surface schisms. When she is struck by a severe illness, the schisms become divides, to Ahmand’s deep dismay. He has to find a way to re-unite his folks, and in the process, they all learn the meaning of ‘soul food’.

"It’s not often that the executive producer is also the composer of most of the songs – and there are QUITE a few: 22 in all, 10 by Kenneth ‘Babyface’ Edmonds, who lays claim to this fame, and he can be proud of it. His music - and his film – are very good indeed. What’s more, his wife Tracey, is the producer (one of two). So it’s partly a family affair. I mention this because it is pertinent in the case of a film that was born of a fervent and long held desire to celebrate writer/director George Tillman’s childhood memories of his family gatherings at his grandma’s place on Sundays. The Edmonds’ involvement came via the music, but it is nevertheless appropriate. There is a warmth to the film, which is to be expected, but it has more going for it than a nice little inner glow. It is also tough, real, and excruciatingly accurate in its portrayal of family conflicts that get out of hand, and relationships that refuse to bind. At moments I was reminded of Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies, not for any story similarities, but for the notion that secrets and lies swirl within families. That it is set in an extended black family simply gives the film a context: it is universal and wholly absorbing, with marvellous performances – and, of course, terrific black urban music. As for the central theme, it is worth digesting. It is also noteworthy that a Hollywood major like Twentieth Century Fox has stumped up the money to distribute the film, which, while entertaining and touching, is unlikely to be a mainstream commercial hit. Maybe they just liked it, like me."
Andrew L. Urban

"As the song says ‘Loving you is food to my soul’. . . richly embellished with heart-felt emotions and coloured by a lust for living and loving, Soul Food is a gem of a film that warms the heart and does feed the soul. George Tillman’s childhood experiences form the inspiration for this film, which is a passionate work about the intricacies that form a large, close-knit family. It’s essentially a story about family love and unity, and the expression of their love is shown in the sharing of special meals. Soul food cooking is from the heart, symbolising the depth, passion and commitment to the family members. The characters are rich, rounded and human, making it easy for us to care for them. The script is beautifully structured from the point of view of Ahmad (Brandon Hammond is outstanding as the poignant young boy with the liquid brown eyes), who is a catalyst for the subsequent sub-plots. The characters are all very different, and I especially like the contrast between the two sisters Teri and Bird, who each treats their man so differently, and with very different results. With an excellent ensemble cast, the film is propelled by an uplifting music score full of rhythm, harmony and soul. It’s a privileged visit into the lives of a family, which has its joys, disappointments, jealousies, resentments and great loves. Funny, sad, moving and entertaining, Soul Food has the very pulse of living at its core: here is a film that makes you glad to be alive, and appreciate the important things that family represents."
Louise Keller

"Few films about the unity of family are as satisfying, intelligent or as full of genuine humanity as this truly special film. No special effects or an abundance of clichés will be found here, and yet, surprise, surprise, when released in the US last October, it was a hit. Maybe not a surprise, because it's a film so intricately and delicately told, a film with a strong and identifiable sense of character, fleshed out by a team of superb Afro Americans. Films with all-black casts, no matter how strong they are, have been a tough sell outside the US, but Soul Food is the exception to the rule for the simple reason that it's not a film about ethnicity. It explores the complexities of family, and does so with razor-sharp humour and pathos, without resorting to excessive sentiment. Beautifully written and directed by George Tillman jnr - a major talent to watch out for - masterfully acted by the likes of Vanessa L. Williams and Viveca Fox as the pair of feuding sisters, and the truly remarkable Irma P. Hall as the family matriarch, Soul Food is further enhanced by an evocative soundtrack. Films like Soul Food don’t come along that often, an unfortunate facet of a jaded Hollywood. Don't miss this gem of a film."
Paul Fischer



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 4
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0
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SOUL FOOD (M) 15+
(US)

CAST: Vanessa Williams, Vivica A. Fox, Nia Long, Michael Beach, Mekhi Phifer, Brandon Hammond, Jeffrey D. Sams, Gina Ravera, Irma P. Hall, Carl Wright, Mel Jackson, Morgan Mechelle Smith, John M. Watson Sr.

DIRECTOR: George Tillman Jr

PRODUCER: Tracey E. Edmonds, Robert Teitel

SCRIPT: George Tillman Jr

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Paul Elliott

EDITOR: John Carter

MUSIC: Wendy Melvoin, Lisa Coleman

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Maxine Shepard

RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Fox

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 26, 1998







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