The beloved best-seller by Sue Monk Kidd has been brought to screen with great care, deep sincerity, and a perfect cast. Unfortunately, it is so careful, so lovingly burnished, so deliberate that it becomes sluggish, never finding the distinctive voice of the book’s narrator. Dakota Fanning, coltishly adolescent, plays Lily, who runs away from her abusive father T-Ray (Paul Bettany), after their housekeeper Rosaleen (Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson) is beaten and arrested for trying to register to vote following the 1964 passage of the Civil Rights Act.
They are taken in by three sisters named after months: August (Queen Latifah), May (Sophie Okonedo), and June (Alicia Keys). They live in a bright pink house and keep bees for their Black Madonna honey. August is strong, patient, and wise. June is impatient and angry. May is sweet and so easily brought to tears that she has a special wall for crying, like the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. She writes down what worries her or makes her sad and folds the paper up to slip it between the rocks in the wall.
The three sisters have managed to create a quiet life of dignity, independence, and culture in part because they keep to themselves. They know that taking in a white child who has run away could give the bigots in their community an opportunity to make their lives difficult, but like Rosaleen, they believe that giving in to racism in order to get along is “just a different way of dying.” And Lily and a new friend explore some personal and societal boundaries that involve some serious risks.
Lovingly made, the film is beautifully performed, especially by Queen Latifah and singer Keys. It gently but honestly addresses the difficulty of relationships made more complex by mingling the ultimate equality achieved through selfless love and the ultimate inequality of pervasive bigotry. But it is too neatly constructed. The hair of the three sisters telegraphs their roles on the continuum of feeling and of where they are in time, May with her little-girl braids rooted to the past and June with her Afro and NAACP t-shirt reaching for the future. August is the bridge between them. T-Ray will come back for Lily, who will find that there is a reason she feels so much at home with the sisters. Everything falls into place, but it all takes just a little bit too long — do we really need three separate transitional montages? A little less respect would have opened it up for the livelier sensibility of the novel. It would have been less pretty, perhaps, but more fully engaging.
In the words of Entertainment Weekly, House and Cuddy will “do the deed” this season. The popular television series is about the irascible doctor who is a master diagnostician but who constantly battles with his frustrated supervisor about his disregard of rules, risks, and social conventions. As often happens in fiction and sometimes happens in real life, this friction sets off some romantic sparks and after years of dancing around their mutual attraction they are going to act on it.
This may be satisfying for the characters, but it is unlikely to be satisfying for the viewers, at least not for long. Can you think of a time when resolving the romantic tension between lead characters has made a television show better? I’m thinking of “Cheers,” “Rhoda,” “I Dream of Jeannie” — any others? “That Girl” ended before the wedding of Ann and Don. Is getting together another form of Jumping the Shark?
Many families have Super Bowl traditions as the generations gather around the television to watch the biggest football game of the year. It gives families a wonderful opportunity to share their interests and histories and to talk about the skill, determination, teamwork, practice, and courage that go into competing at that level.
Unfortunately, the ads, which have generated almost as much press as the game itself, can lead to a whole other kind of family conversation and not one many parents welcome. Every year, I hear complaints from parents who find themselves getting questions about ED or who find their children imitating the silly or hyper-sexed behavior from alcohol ads.
Common Sense Media has a new report based on a review of the ads in over 50 games with more than 160 hours and more than 5000 commercials.
- 1 out of every 6 commercials shown contained messages and images that were inappropriate for young kids.
- 40% of the games included advertisements for erectile-dysfunction drugs (Viagra® and Cialis®)
- More than 500 of the ads involved significant levels of violence, including gun fights, explosions and murders.
- 300 of the ads were for alcohol.
- 80 of the ads included significant levels of sexuality, including scenes about prostitution and strippers.
- Nearly half (44.7%) of the violent and sexual ads were promotions by the networks for their own programs.
94% of the mothers polled said that they were concerned about inappropriate television commercials during pro football games. And at least one father agrees:
“I wasn’t too happy with ads for erectile-dysfunction drugs popping up every 15 minutes whenever I watched a football game with my daughters in the room.”
President Barack Obama,
The Audacity of Hope, 2006
The report, called Broadcast Dysfunction: Sex, Violence, Alcohol, and the NFL is well worth reading. And Common Sense Media’s site has something even more important — a direct link to send the NFL a complaint using their draft text or your own words. If this is a concern for you and your family, I urge you to let Commissioner Roger Goodell know how you feel.
Writing about the original version of “The Electric Company” reminded me of one of my all-time favorite short films by John and Faith Hubley, who later went on to work on the “Letterman” segments of that show. It is the story of two little girls playing and it is called “Windy Day.”
When the Hubleys began making films, animation was very structured and scripted. Their great innovation was the use of improvised dialogue and impressionistic images and the result was fresh, natural, innovative, and remarkably touching. In “Windy Day,” the dialogue is the private conversation of the Hubley daughters as they were playing. I first saw and loved it when I was just past the ages of those girls myself, and I thought of it often as I listened in on my own children at play.
The Hubleys created many more wonderful films, including “Everybody Rides the Carousel,” based on the work of Erik Erikson about the psychological stages of development, and “The Hat” about two border guards (played by Dudley Moore and Dizzy Gillespie) who argue over what they should do when one’s hat blows into the other’s territory.