Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Raisin in the Sun

2008 Sundance Film Festival
★ ★ ★ ★ (out of four)

A Raisin in the Sun received a sincere, loving and prolonged standing ovation at its Sundance premiere, and it deserved every second of it. Lorraine Hansbury wrote the play in 1959, becoming the first black female to have her play produced on Broadway (she was 27). The original Broadway cast, including legendaries Sidney Poitier and Ruby Dee, also made the 1961 film version. And that was just the beginning. The latest Broadway revival was in 2004, with the same cast as this latest incarnation, a made-for-TV-movie scheduled to air on ABC February 25 (2008). Don’t miss it.

Director Kenny Leon has put together an incredible movie, retelling the story of a black family in Chicago (in the 1930's, I believe). The acting is terrific, including Sean Combs (P. Diddy, Puff Daddy, or whatever), who is surprisingly solid as Walter Lee Younger, and Sanaa Lathan and Audra McDonald as his sisters. But Phylicia Rashad (Claire Huxtable) is absolutely extraordinary as their mother, who holds the family together through crises while she encourages her son to follow in his father’s footsteps, and lead them with principles, honor and dignity. It’s easy to see why she won a Tony for her role on Broadway, but remarkable that it translated so well to the big screen.

Everything about the movie works. Yes, the story has a stellar pedigree. But director Kenny Leon keeps the show right on pace, the sets are perfectly understated for the period piece, and the outstanding music is from multiple Grammy Award winner Mervyn Warren. If you’ve never seen Raisin in the Sun, this is a must see. If you have seen it, it’s still a must see.

Sundance Moment: When asked about the role, Sean Combs said “I’ve been in movies before, but I’ve never had so many words!”

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