THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL/DRIVING MISS DAISY: A GENTLE DUO OF ‘NANNA FILMS’ REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL. (1985) BASED ON THE PLAY BY HORTON FOOTE. DIRECTED BY PETER MASTERSON. STARRING GERALDINE PAGE, JOHN HEARD, CARLIN GLYNN, RICHARD BRADFORD AND REBECCA DE MORNAY.
DRIVING MISS DAISY. (1989) BASED ON THE PLAY BY ALFRED UHRY. DIRECTED BY BRUCE BERESFORD. STARRING JESSICA TANDY, MORGAN FREEMAN, DAN AYKROYD, PATTI LUPONE AND ESTHER ROLLE.
These two ‘Eighties films actually have a lot in common. Apart from each being ‘Eighties movies, that is. They’re both what Homer Simpson of THE SIMPSONS would term ‘Nanna films,’ for one thing. Films for and starring old ladies, in other words.
Remember when Homer’s watching ‘Nanna film’ BUTTERFLIES OF AUTUMN and lowbrow slapstick comedy EDITOR-IN-CHIMP simultaneously at the video store? Here’s the clip from BUTTERFLIES OF AUTUMN that’s so sad it makes Homer bawl his eyes out in sympathy:
Nanna, in weak quavery Southern belle accent on her deathbed: ‘I fear I have become a Butterfly Of Winter…’
Female relative, trying hard not to cry: ‘Hush up, Nanna, that’s fool talk…!’
Secondly, both films are based on plays and thirdly, the two female leads each won Academy Awards for their outstanding performances. Geraldine Page and Jessica Tandy each portray completely different old ladies in their two separate films, but their characterisations are spot-on and unforgettable. Both films manage to be beautiful, quirky, powerful and almost painfully sad all at the same time.
We mustn’t forget the men either, though. Morgan Freeman acts up a storm as Hoke Colburn in DRIVING MISS DAISY, which starts off in 1945 in Atlanta, Georgia. He’s an elderly black chauffeur who’s hired to drive wealthy businessman Boolie Werthan’s retired schoolteacher Momma to and from the grocery store, the beauty parlour and the synagogue when she loses her licence.
You wouldn’t think that an impoverished black chauffeur and a rich white Jewish widow who likes everything done her own particular way would have much in common, would you? Over the years that follow, however, the two lonely people edging ever-closer to meeting their Maker become firm friends and they experience many monumental changes together:
The onset of old age and infirmity, even senility; the death of a valued member of the household; racism against both of them and the march of progress of the black human rights cause as espoused by Martin Luther King; and finally, just the year-in, year-out changing of the seasons and the weather and the dying of each successive year followed immediately by the birth of a new one.
Geraldine Page as Carrie Watts in THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL is dependent on her son too, like Jessica Tandy in DRIVING MISS DAISY. She lives with him, in fact, and his wife Jessie Mae, in post World War Two America. Jessie Mae is a childless, nagging misery of a woman who, while not actually abusive to her ma-in-law, seems to go out of her way to make the old lady feel unwelcome in her own son’s home. The son, henpecked to death by Jessie Mae, is called Ludie, by the way. That’s another thing the two films have in common. Both the sons have daft names…!
Anyway, the one wish of the elderly Mrs. Watts is to see the hometown where she lived with her husband and brought up her son one more time before she dies. The town of Bountiful is miles away, however, and awkwarder ‘n’ hell to get to and anyways, Ludie just doesn’t think it’s a good idea to go dredging up the past like that and all Jessie Mae seems to care about is old Mother Watts’s pension cheque from the Government.
So Carrie Watts, a feisty old dear with charm and sass to spare, takes the law into her own hands and takes the bus to Bountiful all on her lonesome. She’s won’t be entirely on her own, however. Rebecca De Mornay’s sweet pretty young Army wife is happy to keep her company on the long bus ride and Carrie’s lucky enough to get a personal escort from the world’s nicest local Sheriff out to her old house.
At the abandoned old ramshackle house and the beautiful green fields that surround it, Carrie Watts re-unites with her son and his wife and the three of them come to a new understanding of each other.
Both actresses are superb in their leading roles. They show dignity and good humour in their attempts to hold onto their independence and their sense of self as they journey through the unchartered territory that is old age. Carrie Watts is a far cry from the role Geraldine Page played in THE BEGUILED with Clint Eastwood back in the ‘Seventies.
She did an excellent job back then of portraying the sex-starved headmistress of a girls’ boarding school in Civil War America who had to grub about in the dirt to feed her protegées. Equally, I’ll never forget Jessica Tandy’s brilliant performance as the elegant, cheek-boney Lydia Brenner in one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best horror films, THE BIRDS.
Anyway, I watched both of these ‘Nanna films’ recently at my local library as part of the annual BEALTAINE festival. Both films celebrate ageing while also exploring some of the difficulties and challenges that come with it. They show us that there’s rejoicing as well as mourning to be done once the snow starts to settle on the roof, as it were. Isn’t that a lovely gentle way to describe the ageing process? I’m sure that Nannas (and hopefully even Grandpas) everywhere would approve…!
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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