Imitation of Life - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Imitation of Life Reviews

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½ August 3, 2016
A film that dares to mingle romance, women's lib, business success, racism, and climbing social ladders by different methods all within 2 hours. Then there's a tinge of social vs familial values as well. The one thing missing is how the two daughters bond & grow up under the same roof yet respond to life so differently. rather average cinematography and decor is soon forgotten with the quality of the acting and editing.
Antonius Block
Super Reviewer
March 31, 2016
What an interesting film this was. On the surface, you have Colbert in a charming role as a self-made woman who makes it to the top with pluck, ambition, and a secret pancake recipe she gets from a maid. But that's not what makes the movie interesting. Colbert's maid is played by Louise Beavers, an African-American, and also a single mother. Her daughter Peola, played by Fredi Washington, is light-skinned, and wants to 'pass' as white. There are several brutal, heart-wrenching scenes between the two of them - as a child (played by Dorothy Black), Peola is upset about being called black, believing it an insult; later in school, she has to slink out of an all-white classroom amidst stares and whispers to see her mother who has shown up unexpectedly; and finally, as an adult, pretending she doesn't even know her at her job, where she's also 'passed', and later telling her she wants to disown her entirely. Beavers' character is sweet and strong, and bears this suffering to her deathbed.

These are the scenes with real emotional impact in the story, and it's stunning, though not surprising, that neither Beavers nor Washington where nominated for an Academy Award. But Colbert was, even though she was also nominated in the same year for 'It Happened One Night'. How true this trend was 82 years ago, and how true it is today (see 'Creed').

Now it is true that the love story in the movie for Colbert with William Warren is captivating, and it gets complicated when her daughter falls in love with him as well, and despite no wrongdoing on his part, creates a dilemma for Colbert. I liked this twist, it was unexpected and created a little angst for the white characters, who were otherwise in beautiful clothes, sipping champagne, and dancing the night away. However, the resolution of this at the end pales in comparison to the resolution of Beavers' story which precedes it.

The movie is a great snapshot of what pushing the boundaries meant in 1934. On the positive side, you have a single mother shown balancing family and work, and keeping control of her business as it skyrockets. You have Fredi Washington, a light-skinned African-American actress (who in real life disdained 'passing') hired to play the role of Peola, when it was much more common to hire whites. You have Colbert's character inviting Beavers into her home and not showing an ounce of racism as she talks to her, or concern when by hiring her they'll live together. And you have a movie that showed very sensitive racial subject matter, revealing to the audience the real struggle African-Americans go through, and in a way that was thoughtful, not exploitative.

On the other hand, you have Beavers' being simple-minded, superstitious, and wanting to remain subservient to Colbert's, even when they've made enough money and it's no longer necessary. While it underscores her big heart, it also perpetuates a myth, one that is very convenient for Caucasians. Also, because the Hays Code had recently gone into effect, references to Peola being of mixed-race were avoided, because 'passing' itself was already dangerous ground, and the concept of racial mixing was a definite no-no. Her father is simply referred to as having been 'light-skinned'. Just as importantly, a scene in the script depicting a black boy being attacked and nearly lynched for coming up to a white woman was excised; conservative America was not willing to admit this shameful truth.

All in all though, an important film. The Colbert story is cute on its own, but I wish the emphasis had been placed more on Beavers, that it had been a movie more from her viewpoint with the minor character and subplots belonging to Colbert instead. Fair or unfair, I knocked it down a half a star as a result.
½ April 9, 2015
A thought-provoking and touching study of race relations in the 1930s that also has some commentary on capitalism and family life as well. It's most notable for the character of Delilah and how she deals with her daughter, Peola, who refuses to acknowledge her black ancestry (she's mixed race).

The second half of the film has a lot of unnecessary melodrama revolving around the character of Bea (Claudette Colbert) and her love interest, but overall this is an important and interesting flashback to the 1930s.
March 31, 2015
As much as we'd like to think that films exist in a vacuum, that is not the case. Still, despite progress, sometimes it is beneficial to (at least attempt to) evaluate art on its own merit and in its historical context. IMITATION OF LIFE is a film to which this can be applied. In terms of its approach to race and gender issues it was probably quite daring for its time. You have two single mothers, one black and one white, who start a business and climb up the social ladder. And their daughters, even though having a somewhat contentious relationship, were treated as equals. But, treating something academically isn't the only possible critical approach. By today's standards, I think the film still falls a bit short in terms of race and gender issues. Louise Beaver gives an awkward performance as a cheerfully subservient "mammy," even though that's the type of roles that were available to women of color back then. There is also an antiquated view on romantic relationships as marriage or "falling in love" is still seen as the pinnacle of a woman's life. All of this, and I haven't even really broached the style of film this is. I don't really mind melodrama as long as its executed well and has a compelling story. For what it's worth, IMITATION OF LIFE tends toward the positive side of this although it bites off a little more narrative complexity than it can fully chew, in my opinion. The primary plot threads involve Delilah's (Louise Beaver) daughter, Peola, who is mixed race and hates her "blackness," and an ichthyologist who Bea (Claudette Colbert) and her daughter both fall in love with. At least to me, there wasn't enough done to really integrate the various story elements in service of cohesiveness. It's like the story had a checklist of things it wanted to cover instead of letting things flow naturally from scene to scene. The outcome of the story was also kind of predictable. Still, the acting, which seems kind of stagey now, was decent, with Claudette Colbert doing the best out of the cast. She was a goddess who shone in every scene, and looked absolutely gorgeous in soft focus. Also, the toddler actress who played young Jessie, her daughter, was cute as a button. Overall, IMITATION OF LIFE is a product of its time. It might seemed dated today, but it's well produced, acted and directed for what it is.
½ December 11, 2014
Pese a algunas situaciones ofensivas, "Imitation Of Life" una aproximación dramatizada y libre acerca del fenómeno de los pancakes "Aunt Jemima", es una maravillosa cinta acerca de la amistad entre dos mujeres viudas y sus problemas con sus respectivas hijas. Claudette Colbert y Louise Beavers son más que magníficas encarnando a estas mujeres.
½ November 10, 2014
I loved this heartwarming film about the world-class friendship between two women in the 1930's, and how it stands the test of time despite a huge change of circumstances in their lives. Many people think this is a racist film, but I don't believe that's the case at all. Essential viewing--and I look forward to watching the 1950's remake shortly for point of comparison.
½ August 30, 2014
The characters lack depth and seems to go through the motions, but nevertheless, this is a decent book-to-movie adaptation.
July 19, 2014
They certainly cram a lot into two hours. Of course, for the time, the themes of independent, powerful women, as well as mixed race issues were quite revolutionary. I mean, this was a film that came out in 1934! Still, quite cute at times and touching at others, it's no wonder they re-made it a few decades later.
April 2, 2014
Even in today's time, this is a mighty heartbreaking story. It's amazing this film was even made, let alone the book it was based on.
Super Reviewer
October 24, 2013
I did not see the Douglas Sirk version that was produced 20 years later but I found this depiction of two girls, one white and one black, who were raised together by circumstance is ever so good.
June 22, 2013
my favorite movie of all time.
June 14, 2013
I thought it was a pretty good movie.
March 13, 2013
A totally different story than the 1959 version, and I can't decide which one I prefer. I do appreciate a story with depth and complexity, totally void of sexual references...they don't seem to exist any more.
½ February 10, 2013
A strong film exploring issues of race, single parenthood, and the place of independent women in society.
February 6, 2013
Made at the height of the Depression, John Stahl's Oscar-nominated melodrama prided itself for its liberal views, but even then the racial angle and Louise Beavers' acting were controversial. i prefer the douglas sirk 1958 version of this.
December 26, 2012
a thoroughly moving, spectacular and classic movie with Louise Beavers and Claudette Colbert as its dual souls...
December 21, 2012
This is one great classic film. No matter how many times you watch it, it will touch your heart.
October 10, 2012
One of the best movies ever! Time is short, let go of grudges, & past issues...& love those around you before it's too late....
½ August 16, 2012
Very good good movie!
May 26, 2012
1934???? WOW this movie is OLD!!!!!! but hey Classic movies ROCK and this is one of the best!!!! all mother's and daughters should see this movie!!!
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