This is a movie that deserves more than a mini-review. It’s written and directed by Kasi Lemmons, probably best known for playing Ardelia Mapp, best friend to Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs. It’s a movie by women and about women, and it probably appeals mostly to women, but it’s hardly a chick flick.
It’s the story of a ten-year-old girl, Eve (Jurnee Smollett, who remarkably gets top billing), who wishes death on her philandering father (Samuel L. Jackson, who also co-produced) and actually does set up his murder by dropping a well-timed hint into the right ear. It’s a disturbing premise, and yet the very human interaction throughout the story makes every character both sympathetic and… well, unsympathetic. And what it does with broad stereotypes is astounding.
Eve’s mother (played by Lynn Whitfield) is a vision of perfection. Flawlessly beautiful, elegant to the hilt. Eve’s sister is a confused teen coming of age, who competes with her mother for her father’s affections (and for her mother’s power). Eve’s aunt Mozelle is a powerful psychic, but all three of her husbands have died. Right there, it sounds like we have Mary Sue, Elektra and the Black Widow – three overwrought stereotypes from hell.
Well, when men write them. In Kasi Lemmons’ hands, all three characters are so fully human that I’m reminded of the source of these stereotypes. Eve’s mother isn’t some writers’ sad projection: she is simply a woman who uses perfection to control her environment (and it doesn’t always work). Eve’s sister is not some writers’ fantasy of a daddy’s girl: she’s a confused teenage girl working out her place in her family, and in the world. And Mozelle isn’t an object lesson in how a feminist woman is toxic to the men in her life: if she is toxic, it’s probably because of whatever makes her psychic. As it is, we never find out why her husbands died, but in the end, she dreams of her own death, and marries once again without fear of loss.
And what of Eve’s philandering father, also an overwrought stereotype? As he tells Eve, her mother is “the most beautiful, perfect woman, and I will always love her.” So why does he need other women on the side? The answer comes much later, in a letter he writes to his sister: he may be just a country doctor, but “to a certain kind of woman, I am a hero. I need to be a hero sometimes”. It’s an explanation, not an excuse.
It doesn’t hurt that Eve, a ten-year-old murderess of sorts, is at the center of all this, defying any stereotype I can think of.