29 Feb 2008, 9:01pm
Rural Life
by admin

Movie: The Trip to Bountiful

(Note: While talking with a friend this afternoon, she mentioned an older movie, “Back to Bountiful,” and told me a bit about it. My excitement grew as I realized that this movie is the one I’d been searching for ever since seeing it on television in the late 1980s. A search at Google proved its name to be “The Trip to Bountiful.” For those who enjoy a decent movie, this one has a five-star rating at Amazon.com [here] out of 42 reviews! Truly a family movie with much to offer each viewer. — Julie Kay Smithson)

Movie Review, NYT, December 20, 1985 [here]

The Trip to Bountiful (1985)

NYT Critics’ Pick (This movie has been designated a Critic’s Pick by the film reviewers of The Times).

By Vincent Canby

It’s 1947. Carrie Watts is a well-meaning, loving old woman but, as her son, Ludie, and daughter-in-law, Jessie Mae, know from years of experience, living with Carrie in a tiny Houston apartment is no picnic. It’s more like a Balkan truce.

When Carrie isn’t butting into Ludie and Jessie Mae’s business, she’s singing hymns that, according to her daughter-in-law, “are going out of style.” Even more irritating to Jessie Mae are the days when Carrie just stares out the window, “pouting.” She also has “spells” - her heart is unreliable, though the doctor has assured her that it will last as long as she needs it.

Carrie is no more fond of the arrangement than Ludie and Jessie Mae are. She longs to go back to Bountiful, the small Texas town near the Gulf of Mexico where she was born, married and raised her children, of whom only Ludie survives.

A return to Bountiful, however, is impossible. Nobody is certain that it even exists anymore, and there’s the persistent problem of money. Times aren’t great for Ludie and Jessie Mae, who are childless and approaching middle age with not much to show for it but each other.

On any average day, Jessie Mae will accuse Carrie of going through her dresser drawers, which is the one thing the refined Jessie Mae cannot stand. Carrie will respond by being rather imperially baffled by a woman who desires only to have her hair done or to go to the drug store to drink a Coke. Ludie, loving both women, satisfies neither.

One afternoon, while Ludie is at work and Jessie Mae is out sipping Coke, Carrie Watts makes a clean getaway. Wearing a hat that looks as if she always sat on it at the breakfast table, and her best dress, which sags in the wrong places, she takes off by bus for Bountiful. She travels light, carrying only an overnight bag, her pension check and some small change.

This is more or less the beginning of “The Trip to Bountiful,” Horton Foote’s funny, exquisitely performed film adaptation of his own play, directed for the screen by Peter Masterson. “The Trip to Bountiful,” which opens today at Cinema 2, is almost as unstoppable as Carrie Watts.

First done in 1953 on the Goodyear Television Playhouse with Lillian Gish as Mrs. Watts, it was later expanded and produced on Broadway, again with Miss Gish. As fine as those productions are reported to have been, it’s difficult to believe that this film version could be topped.

As Mrs. Watts, Geraldine Page has never been in better form, nor in more firm control of that complex, delicate mechanism that makes her one of our finest actresses, though one who occasionally finds herself whirling wildly in the wrong orbit.

Her Mrs. Watts is simultaneously hilarious and crafty, sentimental and unexpectedly tough. Having lived for years with her increasingly idealized memories of Bountiful, she doesn’t hesitate - when her jig is up - to reconcile fantasy with reality. She’s no quaint little old lady, a Texas-style Apple Mary, but a strong, shrewdly willful woman who also happens to be decent.

It’s a wonderful role, and the performance ranks with the best things Miss Page has done on the screen, including her definitive Alexandra Del Lago in “Sweet Bird of Youth.”

The entire cast, however, is superb: John Heard, wearing the beginnings of a paunch, as Ludie; Carlin Glynn as Jessie Mae, whose patience is always nearing its end but always, somehow, being extended; Richard Bradford, as the country sheriff who becomes the unexpected ally of Carrie Watts during her flight, and Kevin Cooney, as the entire staff at a rural bus stop where Carrie is, for a while, brought to earth.

A particular treat is Rebecca De Mornay, first seen as the tireless hooker in “Risky Business,” who here plays the sympathetic, self-possessed, young Army bride who befriends Mrs. Watts in the course of the bus trip. With immense good humor and seeming ease, Miss De Mornay holds her own with one of the great scene stealers of her age.

Though the narrative focus remains short and tight, Mr. Foote and Mr. Masterson have seen to it that the movie doesn’t have the constricted manner of a play that’s been filmed. Neither does it have the padded feeling of something that’s been “opened up” to take advantage of what’s called “the medium.”

“The Trip to Bountiful” works perfectly as a small, richly detailed film that, in turn, realizes Mr. Foote’s particular visions. The playwright’s serene Southern landscapes are very different from those seen in Flannery O’Connor’s gothic tales, yet neither vision denies the validity of the other. As Miss O’Connor’s characters are less lost than their grotesque natures suggest, Mr. Foote’s are in far more danger than is immediately made apparent by the circumstances in which they find themselves.

In “The Trip to Bountiful,” Carrie Watts, Ludie and Jessie Mae keep their sanity. They make compromises and continue with their lives. Family loyalties are maintained -though at a certain price. Giving the film its edge is the unspoken awareness that these are the kinds of characters who, under other conditions, might become bag ladies, drunks or suicides, or run off to join tent shows. By chance, Mr. Foote is more interested in people who hang on.

“The Trip to Bountiful,” which has been rated PG (Parental Guidance Suggested), contains some mildly vulgar language. Homeward Bound THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL, directed by Peter Masterson; screenplay by Horton Foote, based on his play; director of photography, Fred Murphy; edited by Jay Freund; music by J.A.C. Redford; produced by Sterling Vanwagenen and Mr. Foote; an Island Pictures Release.

Running time: 105 minutes. This film is rated PG. Mrs. Watts-Geraldine Page; Ludie Watts-John Heard; Jessie-MaeCarlin Glynn; Sheriff-Richard Bradford; Thelma-Rebecca De Mornay; Roy-Kevin Cooney; Rosella-Mary Kay Mars



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