This is one of the two movies that made me want to start this blog. I had never seen it before last summer. It was one that I had always wanted to see; I had even checked out the DVD from the library a couple of times. I just somehow never got around to watching it. But late one night, I was packing to go on a trip and was looking for something to play in the background while I packed. This movie happened to be streaming on Netflix at the time (although it’s not right now), so I turned it on. My packing didn’t get done until the next morning. I couldn’t tear myself away from this movie. Even though this is a quiet movie about one day in the life of one family, the tension is so great as we wait to find out the parents’ opinions that I couldn’t stop watching.
So what’s the story? Joanna Drayton comes home unexpectedly from Hawaii with a surprise: her new fiancé, Dr. John Prentice, who happens to be black. She is excited for her parents to meet him, and because they are liberals from San Francisco, she is confident that they won’t be upset at the prospect of a black son-in-law. But Joanna doesn’t know something: John has told her parents that if they don’t one hundred percent approve of the marriage, he will respect their opinion and not marry their daughter. Since John is flying to New York and then Geneva soon after, Matt and Christina Drayton only have a few hours to come to terms with this shift in their world.
The Good: There are so many good things about this movie that it’s hard to know where to start. We can start with the acting, I guess. It was a pretty small cast, and everyone was spot on. Sydney Poitier and Katharine Houghton (Katharine Hepburn’s niece) are the engaged couple. Real-life lovers Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn are her parents; Roy Glenn and Beah Richards are his. Isabel Sanford plays Tillie, the Draytons’ maid, who disapproves strongly of the relationship. Cecil Kellaway is the Draytons’ family friend Monsignor Ryan, who strongly supports the couple and quotes the Beatles. Everyone is very believable as people who are blindsided by an unexpected situation.
The music really worked for me, too. Background music was used sparingly throughout the movie, which made it feel more real. After all, who really has their own theme song?
The cinematography was fairly straightforward, but because of this, the one time that anything was different really stood out. When Tillie is berating John for thinking about marrying above himself, the camera is at an angle, reflecting her anger and his bewilderment. It was a small thing, but it made an impact.
The Bad: I don’t like the scene where Matt and Christina go for ice cream. It just didn’t seem to fit in the movie somehow.
Joanna’s attitude annoyed me throughout the whole movie. While she obviously realizes that John is black, she doesn’t seem to think about what that means on a daily basis. She seems to have no idea of the ugliness that is racism. She apparently thinks that their love will be enough to protect them from prejudice. I can understand that she’s a young girl in love, but I feel like she has no understanding of what is waiting for her and John in their life together.
Also, no one raised any objection to the fact that Joanna is 23 and John is 37 and that they are getting married after having known each other only ten days. John’s race is a huge deal, but so is that age difference. I would be seriously worried if my daughter brought home some guy fourteen years older than her that she had known for ten days and said it was true love, but the only thing anyone worried about was the race issue.
The Ugly: There isn’t really any ugly in this movie. It’s a well-done intimate look at what happens to people when they are called upon to live up to the ideals that they’ve preached all their lives.
Oscar Wins: Best actress in a leading role (Katharine Hepburn); best writing, story and screenplay – written directly for the screen.
Other Oscar Nominations: Best picture; best actor in a leading role (Spencer Tracy, posthumously); best actor in a supporting role (Cecil Kellaway); best actress in a supporting role (Beah Richards); best director; best art direction – set direction; best film editing; best music, scoring of music, adaptation, or treatment.