The abrupt shift to meanness of spirit is out of place at the end of a movie that for most of its length plays a gentle love story.
"Corrina, Corrina" was written, produced, and directed by Jessie Nelson, who is entitled to credit for its considerable warmth as well as responsibility for a serious flaw at its core. Through astute casting of her leading roles, Nelson avoids the sentimentality trap inherent in a plot with a newly widowed father adrift in domesticity.
Playing Manny Singer with perceptive understatement, Ray Liotta never resorts to the temptation to overact the search for the housekeeper/surrogate whose presence will allow him to continue to earn his living writing jingles for Mr. Potato Head and Jell-O. Tina Majorino plays Molly, his bereft little girl, with a welcome absence of cuteness. And then there's Whoopi.
When Whoopi Goldberg walks into the Singers' lives, she brings a quiet grace that lets us know right off the bat that Corrina is a serious, kind woman who carries the tools of healing. Her restrained performance allows the movie to be sweet, funny, and sad. She finds humor in the small details of life and uses it to lighten the difficult lives of the people around her.
A therapist by inclination, Corrina uses every one of her insights in handling both the Singers and her own family. Skeptical of Corrina's college degree and the colorful clothes she sews for herself, her sister Jevina (Jennifer Lewis) tries to keep Corrina firmly planted in the suburban culture that is home to her family. That's a losing battle for a woman whose spirit is big enough to encompass the whole world.
The friendship that grows between Molly and Corrina is never coy, and the affection between Corrina and Manny carries an understandable touch of bewilderment. So far, so very good for a family love story of the 90s.
But with an abundance of detail, writer/director Nelson has told us at every turn that we are in the 50s. Why set a contemporary comedy in the Eisenhower years? Danish modern furniture, finned cars, and period clothes tell us we are in the era of the upheaval that followed the Supreme Court mandate to desegregate America. Nelson doesn't openly recognize her own setting until the very end, when she throws in a bucket of racial incidents that seem to be her way of warning the Singers and the audience of the pitfalls of interracial friendship.
The abrupt shift to meanness of spirit is out of place at the end of a movie that for most of its length plays a gentle love story. A friendship like this in the 50s would have been far more disruptive than Nelson implies. "A fish and a bird can fall in love, but where can they build their nest?" is a question that carried an explosive charge in those days. Corrina doesn't fit easily into either her sister's world or Manny's not because she is black, but because she transcends her surroundings. A sophisticated, warm, outspoken woman is a tough thing to be in any culture.
Film Critic: JOAN ELLIS
Word Count: 495
Studio: New Line Cinema
Rating: PG, 1h54m
Copyright (c) Illusion
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