Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Sophie and the Rising Sun: Mixed Romance in 1941
Carr was not FDR’s favorite governor. The Colorado chief executive was
adamantly opposed to the New Deal. He was also the only political leader of any
consequence who criticized the Japanese internment policy. Gov. Carr did his
best to welcome Japanese-Americans relocated to his state. Perhaps things might
have been easier for Sophie Willis and Grover Ohta if they had met in Colorado.
Instead, fate brings them together in segregated, true blue democrat Salty
Creek, South Carolina, in the Fall of 1941. Interracial romance is strictly
taboo in the small town, but the wounded lovers will take their chances in Maggie
Greenwald’s Sophie and the Rising Sun (trailer here), which opens tomorrow in Los Angeles.
a misadventure in New York, Ohta was badly beaten and deposited in a southbound
bus that unceremoniously dumps him out in Salty Creek. Anne Morrison
reluctantly agrees to host the mystery man everyone assumes is Chinese during
his convalescence, but is delighted to find they share a passion for gardening.
It turns out, Ohta also shares a love of painting with Morrison’s socially
awkward friend, Sophie Willis. She is still too young to be a proper spinster,
but after her fiancé was killed in WWI, her prospects in the narrow-minded and
narrow-streeted burg are decidedly limited.
are probably meant to be together, but Pearl Harbor really throws a spanner in
the works. It also inspires another severe beating. Even the tough-talking Morrison
wavers in her broad-mindedness, but not Willis. Morrison’s no-nonsense new
housekeeper Salome also keeps things in perspective, but Ruth Jeffers, the town’s
wildly judgmental busybody is a different story entirely.
has such a fine feeling for the era and the setting, you can practically smell
palmetto trees and hear crickets chirping. However, the narrative (adapted from
Augusta Trobaugh’s novel) is so predictable, beat-by-beat, nothing comes
remotely close to surprising even the most distraction-prone viewer. It is a
shame Greenwald plays it so agonizingly safe, because the performances of
Julianne Nicholson (a survivor of the Osage
County horror show) and Takashi Yamaguchi are really quite lovely. Their
chemistry is potent yet delicate—and absolutely never forced.
Martindale also gives awards caliber work as Morrison, deftly balancing her down-home
flamboyance and gutsy defiance. Lorraine Toussaint nicely handles some pivotal
reveals as Salome. Unfortunately, Diane Ladd and the rest of the supporting
cast seem to be engaged in a contest to see who can play the most unpalatable,
over-the-top Southern stereotype.
looks and sounds great, thanks to Wolfgang Held’s
nostalgically evocative cinematography and David Mansfield’s distinctive score.
For extra added authenticity (and a rare bit of fun), there is also a
swingingly period-appropriate contribution from Vince Giordano. Frustratingly,
scene after scene come like totally on-the-nose teachable moments. There is no
subtlety, no irony, and no ambiguity. A little bit of one or all three would
have greatly deepened its impact. Good looking and well-intentioned, Sophie and the Rising Sun earns a mixed
recommendation, primarily for audiences that will respond to its unmistakable
message, when it opens tomorrow (1/27) in Los Angeles, at the Laemmle Music
Labels: Southern Cinema