Honeydripper (review)

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John Sayles’ latest movie, his 16th, is another wonder of beautifully observant cinema, a sneakily magical immersion in a lost place and time: rural Alabama in 1950, where an about-to-go-under juke joint might just be the unlikely stage for the birth of a whole new kind of music. Danny Glover (Barnyard) runs the Honeydripper, and he’s losing his customers to the more hopping place catty-corner across the crossroads. That the intersection of these two dirt paths in the middle of nowhere could support two such establishments seems improbable anyway, but there’s a kind of fairy-tale enchantment shimmering just under the surface of everything happening here, from the spectre who plays a mean blues guitar who hovers in the background to how the fusebox at the Honeydripper seems to blow out — or not — at the most auspicious — or not — of moments. It’s possible that we’re not in Alabama at all but actually in some corner of heaven where the tunes are kickin’ and won’t let you not get up and bop. Like a slow Southern drawl or a lazy blues riff, this sharp and salty tease of a flick builds to a climax so understated, for all the noise on its facade, that its depth and comic wisdom only become apparent as you turn it over in your mind later. Which you will: this is a scrumptiously unforgettable film, one you’ll be unable to resist revisiting in your head to unknot all its lusciously devious charms.

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