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Banderas Directs a Period Piece? That's Crazy

By Jennifer Liao, Contributing Writer

At first glance, the plot seems simple: a wannabe starlet from Small Town, USA poisons her abusive husband, decapitates him, pops his head into a stay-fresh tupperware container, ditches her seven kids and takes off to Hollywood to become a TV star. It's a typical theme for a movie: carpe diem, no matter who you kill or how many lives you ruin. But set the plot during the turbulent time period of the '60s Civil Rights Movement, and the scope of the film becomes much wider and far more serious than its trailer suggests.

Adapted from Mark Childress' 1993 critically-acclaimed novel of the same name, Crazy in Alabama is at times brilliantly poignant in its portrayal of the fight for civil rights and at other times utterly inane when it comes to any scene that involves its main character, Lucille (Melanie Griffith). Its paradoxical blend of intense drama and absurd comedy accomplishes the daunting task of uniting two seemingly disparate storylines by a common cause: the fight for freedom, whether from an entire society or a controlling spouse. Crazy in Alabama juxtaposes the fallout of two murders in a small Alabama town: the killing of an abusive husband by his Hollywood-bound wife and the murder of a young African-American boy during a peaceful sit-in at the hands of the corrupt town sheriff.

The film is told from the point of view of Peejoe (Lucas Black), Lucille's nephew, who is both Lucille's confidante about the grisly murder of her husband and also the sole witness to the killing of Taylor Jackson (Louis Miller Jr.), the young black leader of a sit-in at a public pool. Peejoe, demonstrating a wisdom that belies his age, refuses to take part in the racisim and segregation that is the rule in his narrow-minded town; however, his principles are sorely tested when he is forced to make a choice between his filial and moral obligations.

As the story unfolds, the initial carpe diem attitude of the movie begins to disintegrate as the question of whether Lucille even accomplishes stardom becomes inconsequential. Rather, her selfish and fantasy-like dreams are used to provide a stark contrast to the very real issues of hypocrisy, corruption and racism of the Deep South. What masquerades as the main plot is therefore secondary to the historical drama that is actually the crux of this film. While the plot isn't exactly complex, the dual storyline results in a movie that is, at times, as confused and discombobulated as its airheaded main character. The insanity of the fairy-tale outcome of Lucille's story undermines the seriousness of the racism and corruption of the Alabama town. Griffith's performance is also extremely one-dimensional, and her shallow character does little to engender the amount of sympathy from the moviegoing audience that she seems to receive from her sentencing judge (Rod Steiger).

On the other hand, the delicate nature of the film is handled better than one might expect for the directorial debut of Antonio Banderas, whose roles in recent films like Desperado and Mask of Zorro have not exactly demonstrated oodles of sensitivity. While Crazy in Alabama has its redeeming qualities and moments of comic relief (provided by a temperamental court judge and a talking head), its non sequitur scene sequence leaves one feeling a bit unsettled, but certain of one thing: tupperware sure keeps its contents fresh.

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