Blallywood Film Review: The Trip to Bountiful
Horton Foote’s slightly obscure play, The Trip to Bountiful, quietly premiered on Broadway in 1953 for a total of 39 performances. The play proved better fitting for the screen when it received a big movie remake in 1985. It was well received and won Geraldine Page her ninth Oscar nomination and first win in the Best Actress category. Last year, this heartwarming piece received a proper Broadway remount- this time with a black cast. Opening night featured Cuba Gooding, Jr., Vanessa Williams, Condola Rashad (daughter of Phylicia Rashad), and the legendary Cicely Tyson. The revival was so well-received that a version was filmed for Lifetime, it premiered on Saturday.
The central plot point features a restless and feisty elderly widow named Carrie Watts sharing a tiny Houston apartment with her spineless son, Ludie, and his overbearing and loud wife, Jessie Mae. Mrs. Watts struggles to get along with Jessie Mae and her son abstains from taking sides. She has a burning desire to visit her hometown of Bountiful, TX one last time before she dies. Her son refuses to take her, too afraid of the difficult memories the small town will engender. She decides to pack a suitcase and leave of her own accord. Her trip is a lesson in kindness, perseverance, and the inevitability of mortality.
The film version’s cast came with a few changes, namely Blair Underwood in Cuba’s place as Ludie and Keke Palmer in Condola’s spot as the sweet young woman Mrs. Watts meets on the bus ride to Bountiful. All of the performances are sound and interesting to watch, but the true stand out is Ms. Cicely Tyson. With a career spanning over 50 years, Tyson makes a triumphant return to the screen as Carrie Watts. She won the Tony for Best Actress in 2013 for the role on stage, and on screen she is equally luminous. At eighty years old, she is fresh, funny, and radiant as she masterfully maneuvers through a remarkable range of emotions and text; each moment equally authentic and beautiful. Vanessa Williams is also fantastic as Jessie Mae with a vibrant energy that is wonderful to watch.
Cinematography is small in scale but rich in heart with detailed attention to intimacy and dialogue. Few wide-range or towering shots make the dynamics of the relationships feel immediate and personal. The score is simple with sweet echoes of the hymns Mrs. Watts sings or hums throughout the story. The brighter more robust orchestrations are reserved for transitional montages.
What is most compelling, due in part to Foote’s writing, is the poignant meditation on womanhood. We encounter three women on very different trips to their own bountiful, but ultimately a common goal of deeper understanding of self- all coming to a heartbreaking head when Mrs. Watts finally arrives at her childhood home.
The film was absent of any obvious references to race, which I appreciated, though found a bit strange. For this story to have taken place in the late 1940’s in Texas, it’s a bit inconceivable that Mrs. Watts’ race wouldn’t have presented some obstacles in public spaces. Even still, the film works, perhaps because the themes and principles presented are so universal.
Lifetime was wise in presenting this feature. It was a bright light of meaningful and redemptive programming- an important departure from its typical salacious fare. Check it out! A.