Beloved (1998) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski) and Tuna

We split on this film. Scoop (having read the book) thought it was a good art film with zero commercial appeal. Tuna (not having read the book) found it confusing and pointless. Critics (most of whom probably read the acclaimed book) loved the film. Audiences did not. One might reasonably conclude that you might really hate this movie, or at least find it totally bewildering and/or pointless, if you have not read and liked the book.

Scoop's notes in white:

To me the story behind "Beloved" is not whether it is a good movie. It is a fine film. Roger Ebert and James Berardinelli each awarded it three and a half stars. The real question is "why do so many people think it isn't?"

I guess the answer is that it is a good movie, but it has the power to please no one, and it has no box office appeal at all except Oprah's name. 

  • First of all, it's complicated and three hours long, and stars Oprah, who seems to have as many detractors as fans.
  • Second, it had a budget of $53 million dollars, and lost a majority of the investment. 
  • Third, it is most likely to appeal to those who read and liked the brilliant novel by Toni Morrison but, unfortunately, that book is difficult to bring to life. Like most great works, it is subtle and inexplicit, inviting the reader to think and wonder. Is Beloved really the missing daughter in the flesh, a supernatural being, a manifestation of Sethe's guilt, an imposter? The book leaves plenty of room for reader interaction. The movie chose to make her a fully realized corporeal entity, and the director and actress chose to have her play the role as kind of a serious version of Jerry Lewis. She talks in a mentally-impaired Linda Blair Exorcist voice, and moves as if unable to control her hands and feet. In effect the movie tells us precisely and exactly what Beloved is like, something the book left us more room to picture on our own, and frankly, I didn't much care for the image they chose. I think many who loved the book will feel the same way. 
  • Fourth, the book is deeply mystical, and uses a complex interweaving of time-scapes, together with a jumble of interior monologues, blocked memories, reality, manufactured memories, and the supernatural/mystical. The book uses these elements effectively, because certain characters have to discover the truth about certain events in the same way the reader does, or the technique will not produce the desired effect. It is difficult to translate this into film, although this film does quite a good job, in my opinion. Unfortunately, that extends the running time substantially.
What do we have left? A movie unable to please those who loved the book, and generally far too complicated and somber for those who are unfamiliar with the book. A movie, in other words, with no audience at all.

Forget the merit of the movie for a minute - who did they think would be the audience? Even if they had completely satisfied the intellectuals who loved the book, that's a pretty small potential audience to build on, and the film is obviously not designed for the mass market.


Thandie Newton's breast and buttocks are seen as she walks out to the porch.

She also has a dark sex scene with Danny Glover.

Glover's buns are seen as he stands up in a tub.

Therefore, the movie was doomed to disappoint almost all viewers, as well as those who invested in it.

Is it a bad movie? Hell, no. It is a good story, powerfully told. It is fundamentally decent. It is well photographed, well acted,  and I liked the score. I thank Oprah and her production company for bringing such a treasured story to the screen. I just hope they weren't planning on a profit.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen letterboxed, 1.85:1, excellent sound and visuals

  • production featurette

I'm one of the few who liked it, but I liked it a lot. 

It limns a picture of the difficulty of good people to keep their moral compasses in extraordinary times. The period of slavery and the American Civil War probably dislocated more moral magnetic north's than any other time I can think of, and it was a struggle to keep on the level of humanity and civilization that we humans think we have achieved. I felt the movie made this point movingly.

I do think it was more difficult to relate to Sethe's strongest actions without a more graphic pictorialization of the hardships she endured and expected her children to endure, but I really am not convinced this was a flaw at all. The picture chose subtlety over melodrama, and that was a choice laden with integrity, if not box office success. 


Beloved (1998) -- I am the wrong person to be writing a review of this film - in short, I detested it, and found nothing of merit during the entire running time. Made for $53M, much of it from star Oprah Winfrey, it only grossed $22.8M. IMDb readers have it at 5.6 of 10. It did receive an Oscar nomination for Costuming. Critics have it 70% positive at IMDb, and the other 30% absolutely hated it. Scoopy found it a beautifully made film that was clearly not commercial. If I recall his argument correctly, it was made from a truly great book which was impossible to translate to the screen. Therefore, those who loved the book would be dissatisfied, and those who hadn't read the book would be confused during the three hours of running time.

From my standpoint, it was a ghost story with no hint of fright, either startle or suspense, and seemed to have the revolutionary theme that it sucked to be a slave. I have nothing against Oprah, as a matter of fact, the one friend of mine who has appeared on her show says she is a totally genuine person, and that the Oprah you see on the show is the real woman. The only performance I had a problem with was the ghost, played by Thandie Newton, although I guess you can excuse the gravelly voice since her throat was cut as a baby, and she had been dead and buried for 18 years.

I am not sure what to call the genre, but those who like it really like it, so the proper score is C+, but count me among the 30% who found no merit in it.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: three stars. Ebert 3.5/4, Berardinelli 3.5/4, Apollo 78, Maltin 2/4. 

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 5.7, Apollo users 62/100. These scores are much worse than the critical consensus.
  • With their dollars ... a major loser. Produced for $53 million dollars, it pulled in only $22 million domestic gross.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+ (both reviewers).

Return to the Movie House home page