Monday, October 8, 2012

Red Beans and Rice Monday: Steel Magnolias Remake

I just don't know where to begin...

So, let me start off by offering my take on the general concept of a remake. Hard. Very hard. Super hard when half of the folks in your intended audience are old enough to remember and recite lines from the original.  And let me add, a much beloved original.

Not that remakes can never be successful, but certain conditions have to be met. First, the update needs to offer a different take on the original. Second, the remake should be influenced by, but never an outright clone of its predecessor. And finally, the new film should be able to stand on its own merits.

So, with all due respect to the very talented Phylicia Rashad, Alfre Woodard, Queen Latifah et al...your magnolias were just not made of strong enough steel.

This remake fell short on every one of the conditions, starting with the most obvious reason for its existence: the casting.  Queen Latifah was miscast as M'Lynn. Jill Scott was miscast as Truvy. What's her name was miscast as Annelle. Phylicia Rashad's daughter was miscast period.  And as much as I wanted to love Alfre Woodard and the aforementioned Mama Rashad, I just didn't.  At one point, I actually tweeted that someone should have called Jennifer Hudson, but I am sure that the casting director would have found a way to misuse her as well. How does one film have so many character flaws?

Perhaps I was too distracted by the six degrees of Queen Latifah thing that was going on in my head: remember how she was in Barbershop 2, which led to Beauty Shop in which Alfre Woodard co-starred (along with a Eurotrash Kevin Bacon!) and Keisha Knight Pulliam, who starred in The Cosby Show with Phylicia Rashad who starred in Tyler Perry's For Colored Girls alongside Anika Noni Rose, who was in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency which starred Jill Scott, who also happens to be a Tyler Perry alum from Why Did I Get Married which also starred Janet Jackson, who as you remember appeared on Good Times as the abused daughter of Chip Fields who is Kim Fields' mother in real life and on screen in Living Single, which also happened to star Queen Latifah.  And should I mention that Queen Latifah starred in Joyful Noise alongside Dolly Parton, the original Truvy?  I need someone to make a wiki of all this...

Bottom line--since the racial conscious casting did not quite work, the movie needed to chart its own course in order to stand on its own as an independent work.  Which, ironically it does, despite the fact that it only made a few minor departures from the original film.  However, those subtle changes modified the central theme from a story about a diverse group of strong-willed southern women to a mother-daughter melodrama set in a southern beauty shop.  Unfortunately, that was enough to make this just another run-of-the-mill Lifetime movie.

Thus if given the choice, I will always prefer the original, which is sad because I desperately want to see more actresses of color breathing life into empowering stories.  I will avoid dissing Tyler Perry today to say that at least he tried to do something original with For Colored Girls and generally he tries with most of his work to offer his version of strong black women (even if Madea is a man in drag).  The point is, for better or worse, he does his own stuff.  There is no shortage of excellent material written by women of color that could be adapted, so must we wait another 10 to 25 years for the next The Color Purple (1985), The Women of Brewster Place (1989), The Wedding (1998) or Their Eyes Were Watching God (2005)? 

Oprah, do you read me???

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