Movie Review: Honeydripper
In 1950s Alabama, the Honeydripper Lounge is going under. In a desperate move to wow his audience, the owner puts a traveling blues musician on stage.
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Name of film: Honeydripper
Director: John Sayles
Lead Actors: Danny Glover, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Charles Dutton, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Stacy Keach, Keb ‘Mo, Mary Steenburgen
Features music by Keb' Mo' and Dr. Mable John.
The Story: In 1950s Alabama, the Honeydripper is going under. The advertised performer is a no-show, so traveling musician is conned into pretending he's Guitar Sam. He has good licks and sets the crowd afire.
Review: This story is set in the racial hotbed of the Jim Crow south. The Honeydripper Lounge is going under, losing its business to a rival bar down the road. In a last-chance move, Tyrone (Danny Glover)—a retired piano player with murder and creditors on his trail—fires his usual act. He advertises that Guitar Sam, a famous bluesman, is scheduled to perform for a special one night only gig. But Guitar Sam ain't coming, and Tyrone makes a deal with the sheriff to release Sonny (Gary Clark, Jr.), a guitar-playing drifter arrested for vagrancy and placed in the sheriff's chain gang to pick cotton. Sonny is set up to pretend he's Guitar Sam—and the audience is about to find out. Sonny shows up toting a guitar cut out of a solid block of wood. And it's electric, which no one has seen before.
You would expect high drama for this time period and place. But, the only real bad guy is the sheriff (Stacy Keach), who starts out mean and cruel, but backs off when the film is getting ready to make an important stand. This makes the character and story lack credibility.
The music is good. Unfortunately, there's too little music. The movie finally comes alive when Sonny starts jamming on the guitar. The screenplay dawdles at times, and the acting doesn't do justice to the subject and the setting. Danny Glover gives a solid performance, and the whole cast does its best, but the dialogue is wordy and slow, like an old blues song.
The story has been told before. This could have been a much better movie, but it's a good way to spend an afternoon and hear some good blues.
–Reviewed by Barbara Lock, Tucson, Arizona