PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Reviews

'The Trip to Bountiful' Is a Reminder of Why We Go to the Theater

This television version directed by Michael Wilson is lacking in the same of urgency that made the Broadway show such a sensation.


The Trip to Bountiful

Director: Michael Wilson
Cast: Cicely Tyson, Blair Underwood, Keke Palmer, Vanessa Williams
Distributor: Lionsgate
Rated: NR
US DVD release date: 2014-08-05

The 2013 Broadway season brought with it one of the most joyful surprises the New York stage had seen in recent years: watching then-88-year-old Cicely Tyson play Carrie Watts in a new adaptation of Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful. The part of the stubborn, but heartwarming Miss Watts had already been played by the likes of Lillian Gish, Lois Smith, and, perhaps most famously, onscreen by Geraldine Page, who won the 1985 Best Actress Academy Award, her only win. This makes it true, if somewhat cynical, to assert that it’s a part that will bring critical acclaim to any actress who takes on it. Tyson went on to sweep all the Best Actress in a Play awards during that season, leading to a touching acceptance speech at the Tony Awards where she became the oldest actress to win the award (and any award at the Tonys for that matter).

Still, knowing that the part is such awards bait, didn’t make it any less wondrous to see her perform onstage with the energy and vitality of someone six decades younger. Watching Ms. Tyson at the Stephen Sondheim Theater felt like a treat, not only because of the undeniable novelty of the event but also because it encompassed what made theater such an important art form: the fact that not a single performance is ever the same as the one the night before. Tyson would add new flourishes and details to her already multilayered performance each night, and talking about her with people who’d seen the show on different occasions, you’d get the sense that this was one of those rare performances you wish you could see on every night it played.

Sadly, none of this excitement or energy was transmitted to the television version, which plays out more like an exploitative continuation of the Broadway event, than as a movie itself. The Trip to Bountiful is essentially the story of how Miss Watts longs to see the town where she was born before she dies. It has all the makings of a simple fable and yet, in her forbidden journey from her son’s home to Bountiful, Foote’s play reveals layers of such touching humanity, that it often feels as if the entire world is contained in its wise words.

One of the many problems of the play is that depending on the supporting cast, the character of Miss Watts can come off as looking ungrateful or slightly insane. When we first meet her, she’s sitting in her rocking chair in the middle of the night, and then gets up to warm some milk for her overbearing, yet undeniably meek, son Ludie (Blair Underwood). His wife Jessie Mae (Vanessa Williams) asks them both to go to bed, as it’s late and the next day is a working day. The camera shows us Carrie who is in the kitchen warming the milk for her adult son. We see that she dislikes Jessie Mae, but what this version always fails to show us is why exactly. As played by the extraordinary Williams, Jessie Mae is a woman who loves her husband and is miserable whenever he is. It’s understandable that she will want to keep her mother in law safe and sound, and stop her from running away, considering that she’s old and frail.

Carrie’s animosity towards her daughter in law in this version feels unearned, more like the makings of an irrational, jealous mother, than anything holding any actual truth behind it. However, you can’t root against Carrie, so when she finally escapes and buys a bus ticket to Bountiful, you somehow can’t help but want her to get her way. On the road she meets many characters, through which we learn about the kind of life she’s led and the tone of the piece often suggests that she won’t make it to her final destination.

This television version directed by Michael Wilson is lacking in the same of urgency that made the Broadway show such a sensation. It exists merely as a device to preserve Tyson’s performance for the ages, which leads us to wonder why didn’t they instead just tape one of her performances. While her turn in the TV version is serviceable, it’s quite unremarkable, other than for the fact that she’s infinitely better than anyone acting next to her (even Williams is slightly off key here).

In a time when media is becoming the almighty god one must bow to, this Lifetime version of The Trip to Bountiful feels appropriate to remind people to go to the theater, to go seek why shows keep being turned into films and TV miniseries. The Trip to Bountiful, as it is here, isn’t always worth the ride.

This DVD version of The Trip to Bountiful is presented in a good transfer that highlights the quality of the production values. There are no special features included.

5

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Music

Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.

Books

The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.

Books

'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.

Music

1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.

Film

'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.

Music

The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.