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"SOUL FOOD"
(1997) (Vanessa L. Williams, Vivica A. Fox) (R)

Alcohol/
Drugs
Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Frightening/
Tense Scenes
Guns/
Weapons
Moderate Minor Heavy Minor Mild
Imitative
Behavior
Jump
Scenes
Music
(Scary/Tense)
Music
(Inappropriate)
Profanity
Minor None None None Extreme
Sex/
Nudity
Smoking Tense Family
Scenes
Topics To
Talk About
Violence
Heavy Mild Heavy Mild Moderate


QUICK TAKE:
Drama: The pressures of life begin to take their toll on a large family after the matriarch is stricken ill.
PLOT:
Sunday dinners have long been a tradition in the Joseph family, and every week the many family members congregate at matriarch Mother Joe's (IRMA P. HALL) home where they grew up. Mother Joe knows that a family will face many challenges and that by getting everyone together for their weekly soul food feast she'll manage to keep everyone happy. Oldest daughter Teri Joseph (VANESSA L. WILLIAMS) is a successful lawyer whose marriage is strained for two reasons. Not only does Miles (MICHAEL BEACH), her lawyer husband wants to give up law for a music career, but her cousin, Faith Jackson (GINA RAVERA), a former stripper turned aspiring dancer, has the hots for Miles. Adding to her pain is the fact that she's the only family member to become successful, and so her two sisters expect her to help pay for various "things." Middle sister Maxine Joseph-Simmons (VIVICA A. FOX) has been married to her husband Kenny (JEFFREY D. SAMS) for a decade, and their son Ahmad (BRANDON HAMMOND) is the story's narrator. "Bird," (NIA LONG), the youngest sister, has borrowed money from Teri to open a beauty salon, and has recently married Lem Davis (MEKHI PHIFER), an ex-con who's having a hard time now finding a job. Trying to help him, Bird asks for a favor from her ex- boyfriend, Simuel St. James (MEL JACKSON), who hasn't given up his pursuit of her even after her marriage. Mother Joe holds things together for a while, but after she's stricken ill with diabetes, the family begins to unravel. As things worsen, Ahmad, sensing their need to come back together, hatches a plan that he hopes will return things to the way they were.
WILL KIDS WANT TO SEE IT?
Preteens probably won't, and many teens might pass on this film unless they're fans of someone in the cast.
WHY THE MPAA RATED IT: R
For some strong sexuality and language.
CAST AS ROLE MODELS:
  • VANESSA L. WILLIAMS plays a successful lawyer who has a big chip on her shoulder about being the best educated family member and the one who pays all of the bills. Also, she doesn't support her husband's dreams.
  • VIVICA A. FOX plays a relatively normal mother who occasionally bickers with her older sister.
  • NIA LONG plays a hair stylist who let an old boyfriend creep back into her life, but mainly just to help her husband find a job.
  • GINA RAVERA plays a former stripper turned unemployed dancer who seduces and finally has sex with Miles, her cousin's husband.
  • MICHAEL BEACH plays Teri's husband who quits his job to pursue his dream, but he also has an affair with Teri's cousin.
  • JEFFREY D. SAMS plays a relatively normal husband/father whose only indiscretion was cheating on Teri for her younger sister more than a decade ago.
  • MEKHI PHIFER plays an ex-con who has difficulties finding a new job because of his past. He smokes some and does carry a handgun that gets him in trouble. He also shoves his wife in one scene. .
  • BRANDON HAMMOND plays the young narrator whose main goal is to get the family back together again and thus is a good role model
  • CAST, CREW, & TECHNICAL INFO

    HOW OTHERS RATED THIS MOVIE


    OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
    This is a fairly entertaining film despite the fact that it's often delicately balanced above the deep and dangerous precipice known as melodrama. While somewhat similar to "A Thousand Acres," the other recent film that shows a family falling apart after it's beset with problems and crises, this feature manages to avoid completely falling into that melodrama. This is because the problems aren't quite so numerous, and the people don't react to them as if it were the end of the world. Like that film, this one features an impressive and talented cast, and most everyone delivers standout performances. "Soul Food" also presents an African American family in a positive light, something not often seen in today's movies. While there are familial problems -- some of them big -- the message is about a family getting its strength through unity and that if they stick together, they can get through those problems. The drama is played out fairly well although nothing really new is presented that we haven't seen in other similar genre pieces. Marriages are strained, an affair occurs, an illness strikes, and so on, but these elements, while not coming as a surprise by any means, still have a fresh feel to them. Perhaps that can be attributed to writer/director George Tillman Jr. who based some of this production on experiences when he was growing up in the Midwest. What also helps is that the performers perfectly inhabit their characters, and the collective cast gives a fresh spin to the often worn plot points. With such an impressive cast, it's often hard to single out performances, but we have to put young Brandon Hammond in the spotlight. His character is innocent, yet wise, and his voice-over narration isn't obtrusive, which is often the case anytime that dramatic device is used.

    There are some flaws in the story's logic, and the main one involves a sequence where Teri believes that Lem has beaten Bird (he hasn't). In retaliation, she calls a distant convict cousin (how come he wasn't invited to dinner?) to go rough up Lem, who of course pulls his gun and is then sent back to prison. It's extremely doubtful that a successful trial lawyer would call a thug to do her dirty work. It's just as unlikely that Lem, who's trying to be as straight at possible, would have a gun (an obvious parole violation), let alone be carrying it in a bar. Dramatically it all works perfectly as it pulls all of the right strings, and granted it's not a huge complaint, but it's still valid. Faults like that and the generally predictable plot are big drawbacks to what could have been a much better film. That's a shame since there are some great performances to be found here. As it stands, we give "Soul Food" a 6 out of 10.

    OUR WORD TO PARENTS:
    While few preteens will want to see this film, here's a quick look at the content. There are two sex scenes, both of which show movement (one rather graphically) with a little nudity. Profanity is extreme with nearly 40 "f" and "s" words combined, along with an assortment of others. Bad attitudes run rampant as there's a great deal of family bickering as well an affair involving people related through marriage. The family's exposed to a member's illness and then death, and there's a moderate amount of violence that includes some fighting. We see moderate to mild amounts of drinking and smoking as well. If you or a family member wishes to see this film, we suggest that you first examine the content to make sure it will be appropriate for your/their viewing.


    ALCOHOL OR DRUG USE
  • People drink at a wedding reception where Lem drinks what appears to be champagne straight from the bottle.
  • The family often drinks wine with dinner and the men are occasionally seen drinking beer.
  • Miles and Teri have wine with dinner.
  • People drink at a bar and Miles buys Faith a second shot of liquor.
  • Bird hands Lem a glass of wine as she begins to seduce him.
  • We see Lem in a bar drinking shots of liquor and the bartender comments about him getting drunk.
  • Faith and Miles drink several beers.
  • People drink at an anniversary party.
  • Lem and Kenny drink beer.
  • BLOOD/GORE
  • We briefly see just a little bit of a bloody bandage after Mother Joe's had an operation.
  • DISRESPECTFUL/BAD ATTITUDE
  • Lem dances with a woman at his wedding and the way she's suggestively dancing with him and the fact that he's dancing with her (that way) are disrespectful to Bird, the bride.
  • Teri has a tremendous chip on her shoulder and reminds others that she paid for Bird's wedding as well as giving her a loan to open her beauty shop, and that she pays Mother Joes' bills. Also, she doesn't support Miles' dreams and tells him he's foolish to give up his law practice for music.
  • We see a flashback where Kenny, as Teri's date, stares at Maxine's butt, and we later learn that he left Teri for Maxine.
  • We learn that Lem was sent to prison (before the story begins) for "selling something."
  • A preacher tells a joke about a woman saying that if she got married she'd have to have sex every night (the punch line was missed due to crowd noise). We also see that he's somewhat of a lecherous old man as he paws at Faith when she first shows up. (Some viewers may not like seeing a preacher portrayed this way).
  • Simuel keeps pursuing Bird although she's now married and gives her expensive gifts stating that Lem can't afford to do the same.
  • Faith, Teri's cousin, comes on to Miles several times, which culminates with the two of them having sex.
  • Although Bird is trying to help Lem get a job, she compromises her morals and her marriage by getting Simuel to help Lem in exchange for a "date" with her.
  • Teri, thinking that Lem has beaten up Bird (he hasn't), sends her convict cousin to go and beat up Lem.
  • FRIGHTENING SCENES
  • A man hits Lem over the head with a beer bottle in a bar, and then he and other men hit him. Lem hits them back and then holds his gun to the first man's head, but the police show up before anything else happens.
  • Teri grabs a kitchen knife and goes after Miles (after seeing him after sex with her cousin), and then seeing Faith, goes after her as well but is quickly stopped.
  • The men try to put out a kitchen fire at Mother Joe's house.
  • GUNS/WEAPONS
  • Handgun: Discovered in Lem's car by Ahmad, and later used by Lem to defend himself when some thugs come into a bar to rough him up.
  • Kitchen Knife: Used by Teri to go after Miles and Faith after she saw them having sex.
  • IMITATIVE BEHAVIOR
  • Phrases: "Nigger" (said by a black person to another black person), "Hootchie Kootchie," "Ho'" (for whore), "Screw" (non sexual), and "Punk."
  • Ahmad lies to everyone about Mother Joe's hidden money to get them together at her house.
  • JUMP SCENES
  • None.
  • MUSIC (SCARY/TENSE)
  • None.
  • MUSIC (INAPPROPRIATE)
  • None.
  • PROFANITY
  • Due to crowd noise, the following numbers may be higher than indicated.
  • At least 27 "f" words (5 used with "mother" and 3 used sexually), 12 "s" words, 1 slang term for male genitals (the "d" word), 7 asses, 6 damns, 2 hells, 1 crap, and 3 uses of "Oh my God," 2 uses of "G-damn," and 1 use each of "Oh my Lord," "Jesus," "God," and "Oh God" as exclamations.
  • SEX/NUDITY
  • A preacher tells a joke about a woman saying that if she got married she'd have to have sex every night (the punch line was missed due to crowd noise). We also see that he's somewhat of a lecherous old man as he paws at Faith when she first shows up.
  • Instead of pinning money to Bird's wedding gown, Simuel puts it in her cleavage and then caresses her breast.
  • Lem dances with a woman at his wedding who not only shows cleavage, but wiggles her butt at him and grinds against him as they dance.
  • Lem and Bird sneak off and have sex in another room (with others nearby). Some movement is seen as is the side of her butt as he's between her legs.
  • In a flashback, Teri hears sexual sounds and sees the steamed up windows of a car that's rocking back and forth and discovers Kenny (then her boyfriend) having sex with Maxine (nothing else is seen).
  • After he won't let her be, Bird tells Simuel, "My husband's name is written all over my ‘kitty cat'" (a nickname for a slang reference to her private parts) while she licks her finger.
  • Bird and her two associates come home and hear someone in the house. They open a door and discover Lem in a towel that later falls off (we don't see anything), causing a gay hairdresser to smile at what he sees.
  • We see Bird's cleavage as she seduces Lem and sits on his lap, but nothing else happens.
  • We see the bottom of Faith's butt as she seductively lies on the floor in front of Miles. She then joins him in his studio, they kiss, and he feels her butt while running his other hand up between her legs. She then undoes his pants and they have sex against the wall with explicit movement (his bare butt is the only nudity) and some sexual sounds.
  • Kenny and Maxine dance and he feels her butt.
  • SMOKING
  • Lem smokes several times, and Faith smokes once.
  • Simuel holds an unlit cigar.
  • People smoke in the background of several shots.
  • TENSE FAMILY SCENES
  • The family must deal with Mother Joe being sick, having a leg amputated, going into a coma, and finally dying. They also fight about what to do with Mother Joe's home and essentially fall apart as Teri wants to sell it, while her sisters don't.
  • Teri and Miles have marital problems over careers and money, which finally culminates in her catching him having sex with her cousin.
  • Lem and Bird get into a fight over her getting an old boyfriend to get Lem a job.
  • TOPICS TO TALK ABOUT
  • Family problems and fighting among the members and how to deal with that.
  • Diabetes, and the fact that Mother Joe has her leg cut off (due to poor circulation).
  • The fact that Lem, an ex con, can't get a job once he's out of prison because of his previous conviction.
  • VIOLENCE
  • In a flashback, Teri tries to pull Maxine from a car where she's been having sex with Kenny (Teri's boyfriend at the time). Teri and Maxine then get into a fight where they do some pushing, shoving, and grabbing, but it's not too bad or violent.
  • Bird and her two associates come home and hear someone in the house. They open a door and discover Lem in a towel, and the gay hairdresser immediately starts hitting Lem, thinking he's an intruder, but is quickly stopped.
  • Lem hits Simuel with a cafeteria tray and then kicks him several times after Simuel goes on about getting Lem the job and about having dated Bird.
  • Lem then goes to Bird's shop and slams the door so hard that the glass shatters. He then takes her into the backroom and shoves her around a bit. After learning that she agreed to go on a date with Simuel in exchange for getting Lem a job, he slams her against a wall.
  • A man hits Lem over the head with a beer bottle in a bar, and then he and other men hit him. Lem hits them back and then holds his gun to the first man's head, but the police show up before anything else happens.
  • Teri grabs a kitchen knife and goes after Miles (after seeing him after sex with her cousin), and then seeing Faith, goes after her as well.



  • Reviewed September 23, 1997

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