Like the surprise hit "Soul Food," "Eve's Bayou" dishes up the inner workings of a middle-class African-American family, the sort of rich fare that usually is not on Hollywood's menu.
First-time director Kasi Lemmons has cooked up a gumbo of simmering lust, sexual confusion and sibling rivalry, with a pinch of voodoo thrown in.
"The summer I killed my father, I was 10 years old," says the film's narrator, Eve Batiste, who takes us back to her childhood in the early '60s, when her prosperous family lived in moss-draped splendor in a sleepy backwater.
Eve's father (Samuel L. Jackson) is a sexy charmer who soothes the disappointments of a boring medical career by dispensing more than aspirin to his female patients.
The women in the Batiste family are even more vivid, thanks to their elegant party dresses and oversize emotions. Eve's mother (Lynn Whitfield) is an anxious beauty who tries hard to ignore her husband's philandering and refuses to let her children play outdoors after receiving a warning from a scary fortune-teller (the glamorous Diahann Carroll in full grunge). Eve's Aunt Mozelle (Debbi Morgan) can't seem to figure out why her husbands keep dying.
As the temperature rises, so do the tensions in the Batiste household. Eve (Jurnee Smollett, a wonderful young actress) and her older sister are desperate to make sense of their mixed feelings toward their dad, their mom and each other, but as anyone who's ever seen a Southern melodrama knows, a happy ending is as doubtful as a drop in the humidity.
Lemmons, who also wrote the screenplay, deserves to be thrilled.
Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Lynn Whitfield, Debbi Morgan and Diahann Carroll
Directed by Kasi Lemmons
Released by 20th Century Fox
Sun score: ***
Pub Date: 11/07/97