“Soul Food” is one of those movies that fits the heartwarming cliche. It tells the tale of an African-American family torn apart and put back together with a little help from an elderly lady, a little boy and some good country cookin’.
Big Mama Joe (Irma P. Hall) heads the family, enriched by a Sunday dinner tradition of cornbread, fried chicken and macaroni and cheese. The movie opens with Bird (Nia Long) and Lem’s (Mekhi Phifer) drama-filled wedding ceremony. Bird’s ex Simuel (Mel Jackson) pops up, as does Lem’s ex, whom he proceeds to grind on the dance floor. Bird’s sisters, Teri (Vanessa Williams) and Maxine (Vivica Fox), encourage her to take care of the problem, but when they go to the dance floor, they find that Lem is dancing with Big Mama. Maxine’s son Ahmad (Brandon Hammand), the narrator of the movie, is in awe of Big Mama’s ability to pull the family together even in the worst situations.
The trials the family must deal with begin when Mama Joe burns her arm while cooking Sunday dinner. Big Mama has diabetes and, we learn later that she is going to have her leg amputated. At Sunday dinner, cousin Faith pops up out of the blue and gets a warm reception from Mama and glares from everyone else. Also at the table, Maxine’s husband Kenny (Jeffrey Sams) brings up Lem’s time in prison. Mama goes to the hospital to get her leg amputated and falls into a coma. From there the family gets worse.
Lem loses his job and turns to Kenny for help and advice. Kenny tells him that no matter what, he can’t tell Bird about it. And once Bird eventually finds out, she goes to her ex-boyfriend Simuel and asks him for help to find Lem a job. In return, she goes out on a date with him, and once Lem finds out, he screams at her and throws her against the wall.
Ahmad is one of the best parts of “Soul Food.” He is an adorable boy who bears a striking resemblance to a young Mekhi Phifer. His acting is the most impressive in the movie. The scene when he finds out about Big Mama’s coma and becomes emotional is amazing. Another impressive scene of his is when he screams at the entire family toward the end of the movie to make them realize how immature they are acting, arguing with each other.
The storyline of the three sisters’ cousin Faith (Gina Ravera) cheating with Teri’s husband Miles (Michael Beach) is well executed. From the time she comes on screen it is obvious that black sheep Faith is there to stir up trouble. While Teri is overly money-conscious and cold, Faith supports Miles’ music career so it is not difficult to understand why he is tempted. This part of the movie climaxes with Teri chasing Miles with a knife through Maxine and Kenny’s anniversary party.
“Soul Food” is a well-rounded film with great performances and plenty of teary-eyed and uplifting moments. The comedy can’t be overlooked either. By the end of the movie, you might just need to start having your family over for dinner each Sunday night.
Soothe your soul with this low calorie Gumbo
Serving Size: 12
12 c. water
6 ts. vegetable bouillon
4 tomatoes, fresh or 1-lb can
1/2 c. corn, fresh or canned
1 celery rib, diced
1 onion, diced
1/2 c. okra, cut
1/4 c. rice, white or brown
1/8 ts. Tabasco sauce (optional)
1 c. shredded cabbage
Put all of the ingredients in a large pot, bring to boil, cover and simmer about 20 minutes until all vegetables are done. Use shredded cabbage, chard, bok choy or other green vegetables if you want to make it more filling. And add your own personal touch, don’t be afraid to add something else to your gumbo.
1- 1/2 c. serving equals about 35 calories.