Forbidden Choices Reviews

 

 

Egypt, Maine is the other Maine, the part of the state that doesn't have Kennebunkport spreads and fresh-scrubbed, healthy complexions. Egypt is a depressed farming community now owned by paper companies, and the home of the Pomerleau and Bean families. Actress-turned-director Warren debuts behind the camera and takes author Carolyn Chute's first novel and adapts it with the help of screenwriter Bill Phillip to tell a charming, gritty tale of characters who are just trying to get by. The film's narrator is Earlene Pomerleau (Plimpton). She watches the Beans, who live on her father's property, from her picture window. Constantly warned by her father (Sanders) to stay away from the poverty-stricken Beans, Earlene is nonetheless fascinated by the dramas that swirl around the family. Patriarch Ruby Bean (Hauer) receives constant visits from the law, while his wife Roberta (Lynch) keeps having babies who look a lot like Ruby's cousin Beal (McGraw). The relationships are complex in this part of the country, and as Earlene grows up she becomes enmeshed in the life of her neighbors, eventually marrying Beal. Not much happens in this film, but the characters are so thoroughly fleshed out that watching them survive their lives nearly obscures the often lurching storyline. Plimpton infuses Earlene with a wisecracking stoicism. Without the help of makeup and only Plimpton's facial expressions, her character ages almost a thousand years in the film. Although he appears for only the first and last scenes of the film, Hauer is riveting as the explosive Ruby. Rarely has the actor been allowed such depth in so little screen time. McGraw successfully transforms Beal from a sweet-natured, lusty young boy into a man brutalized by Egypt's poverty and his own hardships. Finally, Lynch's Roberta is a complex mix of vulnerability and sharp-eyed pragmatism. Lynch's talents are often underappreciated in part because they shine in lesser-seen “small” films like this one. Not having read the novel I cannot compare it with the film although in talking to those familiar with Chute's work the adaptation seems faithful. Perhaps some of Chute's descriptions will have greater impact on the screen. The scene in which a rain coated Roberta and her band of small children rescue Earlene from a numbing depression portrays tenderness in hues of yellow and grey. With their hooded slickers the children seem like sweet ducklings as they cluster around Roberta, clucking over the filth that Earlene has let accumulate even as they help her into a wheelchair. The Beans of Egypt, Maine is an interesting little film, much like its characters. It is rough around the edges, but it's worth sticking around for.


Alison Macor [1995-02-10]
 

 

A Film Review
Copyright Dragan Antulov 2002


Like almost any other filmgoer, the author of this review has, from
time to time, expected one sort of film only to watch another. One
of such surprises happened with THE BEANS OF EGYPT, MAINE
1994 drama directed by Jennifer Warren. In my country it was
advertised as psychological thriller about young bride having to
deal with violent father-in-law. Yet the plot, based on the novel by
Carolyn Chute, deals with something quite different - life of a
impoverished family of loggers in rural Maine. Protagonist is
Earlene Pomerleau (played by Martha Plimpton), young woman
who lives next door to the home of Beans, dysfunctional family
whose violent and sociopathic ways gave them notoriety even
among their white trash neighbours. Much to the discontent of her
own Bible-thumping family, Earlene spends most of her days
watching Beans, especially young and handsome Beal (played by
Patrick McGaw) and after a while bears his baby. Earlene starts
living with Beal, but this life is far anything but idyllic - faced with
incredible poverty, every day she has to prevent her children from
starving, while Beal starts adulterous relationship with his
stepmother Roberta (played by Kelly Lynch).

There are few modern-day Hollywood films that deal with life in
impoverished rural areas in modern-day America and show that
poverty, ignorance, violence and other forms of social pathology
aren't exclusive domain of ethnic minorities. The opportunity for
portrayal of poor rural whites was unfortunately missed by
actress-turned-director Jennifer Warren. Although she doesn't
stay clear of naturalistic depictions of human misery (best
embodied in scenes that show Beans having to hunt for food in
order to merely survive), her lack of directorial skills manifests
itself in episodic structure of plot being incoherent and sometimes
even incomprehensible by the viewer. Naturalism of the film is
compromised by some bad casting choices, mostly in the case of
Kelly Lynch who looks too glamorous for white trash matron. There
are plenty of other wasted opportunities, and one of them is
Rutger Hauer, whose excellent performance as violent patriarch of
Bean clan is used only in few scenes at the beginning and the end.
The finale lacks catharsis, but at the time most of the viewers have
probably lost any interest for THE BEANS OF EGYPT, MAINE.

RATING: 2/10 (-)

Review written on September 10th 2002