Ulee's Gold (1997) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)
an old saw that postulates that a working timepiece is never exactly
right, but a stopped clock is precisely right twice per day.
Peter Fonda is the stopped clock. For about a zillion years now, he's been delivering the thoughtful, laconic, unchallenging, laid-back guy in pretty much every film. He's also been completely stiff in all his body movements. This time he got the script that called for a thoughtful, laconic, unchallenging, laid-back guy with a very bad backache that kept him from moving around very much. Voila. Oscar nomination.
The academy obviously felt that Fonda nailed the role and that he's paid a lot of dues over the years, and he comes from a family of acting royalty, so .... there it was.
Ulee is a beekeeper, an old-fashioned guy who runs a one-man operation, as he has since he took over from his dad, who in turn took over from his own dad. He produces a type of honey known as Tupelo Gold, which can only be produced by the bees and the climate of the river valleys in Georgia, Mississippi and Northern Florida.
Sorry for those of you who thought that Tupelo Gold would be either a high grade of marijuana or a precious metal much coveted by Gert Frobe.
He has one of those jobs that requires him to bust his ass with 18 hour days two months a year, kind of like a tax accountant. This year, events in his personal life conspire to take him away from the bees when he needs to be working.
|He's raising two young girls whose mother is a junkie and whose dad in is the slammer, and they are a handful to begin with. Then an imprisoned son needs Ulee to resolve a plot twist involving two former criminal associates, his junkie wife, and some unrecovered robbery loot. And then, there is the junkie daughter-in-law herself, and the matter of Ulee's very bad back.||
|Ulee is one of those
people who can't trust other people or ask them for help, so he
steadfastly refuses all assistance from his friends and family and
tries to do everything himself unless help is forced upon him. Having
been shattered by the lives of his son and daughter-in-law, he shuts
himself off from emotional contact with anyone, becoming ever more
world-weary and withdrawn.
The criminal sub-plot makes the movie go forward, but it's really about Ulee learning to trust people and relate to them again.
It's a gentle movie which moves deliberately. The members of the cast, even the two evildoers, speak in a laid-back manner without raising their voices, and refer to each other as Mr This, or Captain That, or My Father. The low energy is intentional, and is reinforced by tension-free action scenes and a gentle score that might have been background music on Walton Mountain during their warm moments.
|This film is a virtual primer on
beekeeping. This movie is to beekeeping as Moby Dick is to whaling.
This is really not my kind of movie. I was determined to watch it, but I had to stop it twice to take a break, then muster up the will to get back to it. It really is that slow and that low on energy. On the other hand, many critics felt it was superior, and confirmed the Oscar committee's nomination of Fonda, and there is much to be said for their reflections. It is a graceful, dignified, realistic film without any contrivances or artifice, and I'm pleased that Peter got a role tailored to his skills.
Sidebar: Although the outdoor scenes in the film have a beautiful photographic feel, with plenty of vernal greens and yellows, the sound mixing is very poor. There were cases when the words were drowned out by background sounds or music, and a couple of cases when I just couldn't make out what they were saying, even with the sound all the way up.
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