“Honeydripper”- Susan Granger reviews

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Independent writer/director John Sayles is one of our most cinematic storytellers – with “Eight Men Out,” “Return of the Secaucus Seven,” “Matewan,” “The Secret of Roan Inish,” “Lone Star” and “Sunshine State,” among others.

This observant tale is set in 1950, just outside rural Harmony, Alabama, where two mythical nightclubs sit at the crossroads. Former piano-man Tyrone “Pinetop” Purvis (Danny Glover) runs the Honeydripper, featuring aging blues singers like Bertha Mae (Mable John). But he can’t seem to attract customers – unlike his rival, Old Man Toussaint (James Crittenden), who packs ‘em in next-door with a well-stocked jukebox.

Purvis will lose his dilapidated roadhouse unless he can come up with mortgage money quickly, so he arranges to import New Orleans’ sensation Guitar Sam for a one-night-only show. But everything seems to go wrong. Not only is his wife and chief cook, Delilah (Lisa Gay Hamilton), falling more and more under the influence of charismatic Pentecostal preacher Cutlip (Albert Hall), who condemns drinking and dancing, but his 17 year-old step-daughter, China Doll (Yaya DaCosta), is smitten by a drifter (Gary Clark Jr.) with an electric guitar. And there’s the question of whether Guitar Sam will show up. Hovering ominously is Sheriff Pugh (Stacy Keach) who’s taken a fancy to Delilah’s drumsticks, among other things.

Sayles’ talk-heavy plot serves as structure for atmosphere-drenched, folkloric vignettes that delineate racism in that time in that place. There’s Delilah’s condescending employer, Miss Amanda (Mary Steenburgen); the hefty seamstress Nadine (Davenia McFadden), who’s attracted to Purvis’ easygoing pal Maceo (Charles S. Dutton); bickering cotton-pickers (Eric L. Abrams, Sean Patrick Thomas); and the blind bluesman (Keb’ Mo’) who serves as Purvis’s guilty conscience.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Honeydripper” is an evocative 8 – with a rockin’ soundtrack.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.