It frequently happens that I see movies in pairs where one informs my opinion of the other. After Tuesday night’s viewing of Waitress, I sat down last night to watch Come Early Morning, writer/director Joey Lauren Adams’s ode to … well, I’m not sure to what, actually. Her hometown, where she insisted on filming despite greater financial advantage in other southern states? To her own difficult past? In that last link Premiere says that the lead character is trying to “overcome her humble hometown,” but it’s far less about the town than the classic tale of a family’s dysfunction setting up difficulties for one of its daughters. If anything, the setting, familiar and welcoming, peopled with concerned and loving neighbors in addition to her difficult family, is what keeps Lucy (Ashley Judd, in a part Adams wrote for herself before opting out of acting in the film altogether) going and seeking for some way to improve her road.
Essentially, both Waitress and Come Early Morning went after the same story, “young woman lifts herself out of a stuck past,” but Come Early Morning managed it much better. Both films are set in the South, but Come Early Morning is peopled with far more believable Southerners. Where Waitress went in for quirky comedy, Come Early Morning set up some plodding reality–it actually would have been almost stilted had not it been for the quick transitions between short scenes. Where Waitress allowed its heroine to come into glory through good fortune and simple deservingness, Come Early Morning presented us with a flawed woman barely even likeable through much of the movie, matched with a guy (Jeffrey Donovan, doubly interesting to me on account of A) his incredibly authentic Southern accent and mannerisms despite his New England upbringing and B) his being a dead ringer for my brother-in-law) who had a little more going on in the emotional department but not enough patience to stick with her. Thus both women end up alone and heading up the “strong and independent” road, but the end of Come Early Morning left me hopeful, while Waitress, as aforementioned, just left me disgusted with the breakup. Where in Waitress I felt that event after event just happening to Jenna with little control on her part devalued her character, in Come Early Morning we watch Lucy’s struggles to change her own behavior, take her own choices in hand, and leave behind what of her family’s troubled past she can’t reform. Her financial good fortune, unlike Jenna’s unexpected windfall, comes because she has the guts and the belief in herself to ask for control of the company her boss is leaving behind.
Kudos to Ashley Judd and Jeffrey Donovan for their heart-tearing portrayals of troubled and striving people. Kudos to Joey Lauren Adams for presenting Southerners, even charismatic holy-roller types, with sympathy and integrity. In one of the best scenes in the movie, Lucy goes to the minister and tearfully demands to know the meaning of a verse that describes God “visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.” The preacher, a leather-vest ’70s-sideburns type, offers her some straightforward advice when she wails that she’s been defrauded by the promise of “knock and the door shall be opened.” He tells her: “So stop knocking. And just walk in.” The Southerners in Come Early Morning, including and especially the preacher, are the kind that in almost any other film would be set up for mockery. Here they are the heroine’s saving grace. And she gathers up their kindness and moves forward, creating her own new growth and a better life. Hopeful indeed.
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