Eve's Bayou Reviews
During the course of this conversation, it washed over us that our past is nothing more than a selective collection of memories, most positive in their tone. Years from now, when we've become successful adults whom no longer have to worry about extra credit opportunities or finals, college will not be reflected upon as something abominable. We'll tell youths younger than us that it can be difficult with a subtle laugh, only to turn around and overemphasize just what a fun time attending a university can be. Bizarre how what we're presently living may be forgotten in the near future, or, at least, romanticized.
Similarly, 1997's "Eve's Bayou" is a choral coming-of-age movie that draws upon the curiously rhapsodic nature of memory, and how it shapes the ways in which we live on a day to day basis. It is told in flashback, narrated by the now grown title character. We are transported to 1962, the year of Eve's tenth birthday and the year that she, as she believes, killed her father. Eve (Jurnee Smollett) is the middle child of the Batistes, a wealthy family living in the upper-class part of sultry Louisiana. Her older sister, the thirteen-going-on-fourteen Cisely (Meagan Good) is blossoming into a beautiful young woman, her younger brother (Jake Smollett) raucous and sweet. Eve's father, Louis (Samuel L. Jackson), is a well-respected family doctor whose womanizing habits might lead to his downfall; her mother, Roz (Lynn Whitfield), is a housewife on the verge of unraveling.
For the most part, Eve has had a wonderful childhood, playful and carefree. 1962 is so significant because it was the year everything changed: it was the year she lost her father, the year she lost her innocence, the year she discovered herself as being something more than someone's daughter, someone's sister. It all begins when she accidentally witnesses one of her father's many infidelities during a house party - then and there does she begin to wonder just how much her na´vetÚ has clouded her reality. Her sister, at an age where she believes that she knows everything about all subjects, assures her that she didn't see what she think she saw. But Eve knows that something is off, thus beginning a coming-of-age process that perhaps might be coming too soon.
In structure, "Eve's Bayou" is essentially a melodrama slightly more subdued than what you'd find coming from Tennessee Williams, the emotions inflated, the interweaving plot lines coming together with breathy cohesion. But it stands far away from its more soap operatic counterparts, as it feels affectionate rather than broad, down-to-earth rather than exaggerated. It is unusual in that it is a coming-of-age film that isn't reliant on old tropes of finding oneself in a movie, the drama sometimes earnest yet sometimes brutally honest. Eve is not growing up purely for our enjoyment, but because she has to; the idolization of her parents is slipping away, and her fairytale land of a world is slowly resembling one that a more cynical adult might be experiencing themselves.
"Eve's Bayou" also makes for the writing and directing debut of Kasi Lemmons, whose artful eye and thoughtful consideration of the beauty of family ties allows for the film to warm our hearts just as much as it causes them to ache. Not wanting to make a despondent film, rather a truthful one, Lemmons injects dramatic nuance into trappings that might cause the film to seem overwrought. What she achieves here, I think, is the same lovability we'd find in other great coming-of-age films like "Almost Famous" or "Dazed and Confused." The characters are distinctly drawn, but we can somehow find ourselves in them, or, at least, their experiences. Its accessibility vitalizes it.
And its actors bring an intimate repartee that sells the vital familial bonds showcased in the film. Leading actress Jurnee Smollett, ten years old here, is responsive and expressive, an accomplished hybrid of amenability and curiosity. Meagan Good is heartrending and oftentimes touching as a little girl who, despite being a little girl, thinks she's a woman ready to take on the world. Samuel L. Jackson is strong, making an impression as an almost legendary figure of the past in what would otherwise be a background role; Lynn Whitfield is sympathetic as a spouse beginning to lose her faith in just about everyone around her. I especially liked Debbi Morgan as Eve's spiritual aunt, who tries to gently push the girl into a matured state while dealing with problems of her own.
Few issues penetrate "Eve's Bayou's" stylish, emotionally encompassing surface besides a couple unconvincing delves into the otherworldly that feel out of place in an otherwise richly conceptualized drama. Profound and texturally true, it is a film of indisputable refinement, making the simplicity of human existence something to behold.
Whenever I look back to the films that came out in the 90's, I recall a hella lot of great independent little films, many w/ Steve Bucsemi, Anne Heche, Dermot Mulroney, Catherine Keener, and a whole lot of other white and Italian Amer faces! It was something else to catch Spike Lee films and little known other Black directors, writers and actors & actresses. This one was such a gem that I felt like I was viewing poetry onscreen. Lovely new child actress Jurnee Smollett, who grew into an adult actress of quite the talent indeed, and a cast of others who with Cassie Lemmon's direction and a wonderful script, made the viewer feel like she/he was part of the unseen set getting to view magic happen.
Engaging, scary at times, heart wrenching, sweet...Eve's Bayou contains layers of complexity that don't often take place all at once for a viewer. All these years later I am compelled to see it again. Like a good book, this is just one of those films that has a Terrence Malick-like pull to feed the soul with inspiration and a warm heart.
Strictly in the tradition of Southern Gothic storytelling, this film falls all too often into cliche -- cliches that anyone familiar with the Southern Gothic genre know all too well. The atmosphere of the film, which most people liked, is created by the soft monologues and the panning scenic shots, but I found the monologues poorly written and detracting from the scene and the connective tissue of the film doesn't do much to advance the central story.
Young Jurnee Smollett is quite good, capturing her character's childhood innocence, but her elocution betrays her inexperience, and Lynn Whitfield is responsible for making her monologues feel like departures rather than necessary elements of the story.
Overall, this is a basic Southern Gothic film, and if you've seen them all, then you've seen this one.