Beloved (1998)

Directed by Jonathan Demme
Written by Adam Brooks, Akosua Busia & Richard LaGravenese, based on the novel by Toni Morrison
Starring Oprah Winfrey, Danny Glover, Thandie Newton, Kimberly Elise, Beah Richards

My Advice: Matinee.

First of all, I would like to take this moment to give the finger to all the reviewers, newspapers, and anyone else out there who made what was supposed to have been a revelation (revealed only 2/3 through both movie and book) into the established premise of the film.  Thank you.  Thank you so very much for ruining one of the most shocking pieces of information by making it public knowledge in photo captions and sound bytes.  And if the studio was responsible for perpetuating this, then screw all of you too.  Learn how to promote a film, would you?  I have the utmost respect for Oprah and I hope she had nothing to do with it and I hope she smacks the crap out of all of you.  There, I've said it.  Onto the review proper.

Let me make the understatement of the year: Sethe (Winfrey) is a woman with problems.  Her two sons have abandoned her, her husband is missing, her one surviving daughter is afraid to leave the house, and her daughter which did not survive haunts the house, terrifying everyone inside it (especially the dog).  All of this on top of the fact she is a runaway slave from a place very ironically named "Sweet Home."  She barely escaped with as much of her family as she could--you can see for yourself that this is one tough lady.  First, enter Paul D (Glover), a former slave from Sweet Home as well, who brings memories and possibly a new future.  Just when this future appears to be taking shape, and it appears to be a good one, enter the mysterious Beloved (Newton), a stranger who appears almost literally on their doorstep and inexplicably becomes a part of their lives.

First of all, let me say that frequenters of SDI know that this is one of my all time favorite novels, so I approached the film with both frustration (for taking so long to come to the big screen) and trepidation (because it was coming to the big screen at all).  Still, Oprah has cradled this thing for the get-go as a labor of love--and it shows.  Let me say this before I start praising this project--it's not an easy film, and I don't just mean because of its three hour length.  Even though one can delight in the incredible performances, it's still convoluted, harsh and unforgiving--which I suppose deserves a great deal of commendation, because that's how I found the book.  You don't necessarily enjoy it, in a sense, you simply experience it.  I even sat there wondering if one would be lost without having read the book beforehand, but I remember feeling the same confusion my first time through the novel. 

I've always been impressed with Oprah's acting prowess and was looking forward to her performance as Sethe, since the character has a tremendous range throughout the film.  She makes the most of it too, going from strong and fiercely independent to a pretty much helpless invalid.  If your talk show ever gets boring for you, Oprah, please remember to get back into acting.  Danny Glover is in terrific form, having to deal with all the women in his life, who's never quite sure if they're a little crazy or not.  So if I was trying to be funny, I'd say he was Everyman.  The three supporting actresses will unfortunately have to fight for nominations among them, because they are all incredible.  Beah Richards is Baby Suggs, the grandmother of the family, whose forest revival scenes truly make you believe she is a woman of God.  Kimberly Elise is the daughter Denver, who is probably the only character to come close to matching Sethe's range of emotions, albeit in the opposite direction.  Thandie Newton is the title character and doesn't have much range depicted on the screen, but the range of reactions she evokes from the viewers go from gooseflesh to repulsion.  Truly a magnificent performance from everyone involved and expect the nominations to be slung around quite a bit.

And while we're on the topic of nominations, let's talk the adapted screenplay award, which is pretty much wrapped up.  I know there's been some hullabaloo over who actually wrote this thing, but whoever did it deserves major points for including so much of the novel.  And Demme gets points as well for being able to translate it to the screen virtually intact.  It's a long movie and it's a tough movie but it's definitely worth seeing.  Check it out.

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