"Soul Food" is a warm, funny, touching African American family drama, the kind of bittersweet melodrama that critics tend to relegate as crowd-pleasing corn. We could use more when it's this well done.
Engagingly drawn, the delectable ensemble piece that opens today mixes, matches and mismatches the affections, rivalries, hopes and dashed dreams of a half-dozen wonderful characters.
That is a large table-setting of people, but relatively unknown writer-director George Tillman Jr. ("Scenes for the Soul"), drawing from his own experiences, keeps every character within reach. The result is a lovely wash of humanity, served with affection. Each character grows and changes in the course of a Chicago-set story anchored by traditional Sunday family dinners concocted by matriarch Mother Joe, poignantly played by Irma P. Hall. Mother Joe's been the force behind the weekly feasts of chicken, chitlins, peas and piles of other goodies for 40 years. When Mother Joe gets sick, the family is thrown into a period of emotional loose ends. Suddenly the kin are at each other's throats over who will carry the torch and what might be done with the real estate if Mother Joe checks out.
Mother Joe's daughters are the main focus.