A Raisin in the Sun (2007) dir. Kenny Leon
Starring: Sean Combs, Sanaa Lathan, Phylicia Rashad, Sean Patrick Thomas
The latest version of “A Raisin in the Sun” teams the cast from the recent Broadway revival and moves them onto the small screen in this made-for-television adaptation. Added lustre comes from its inclusion at the Sundance Film Festival – rare occasion for an ‘MOW’. Unfortunately this version is a dull-edged sword with little added to bring the play into the new millennium and stands completely on the shoulders of the powerful 1959 play.
If you haven’t seen or read the play or seen the Sidney Poitier version, the story takes place in the 1950’s Chicago in a poor rented tenement apartment occupied by the Younger family. There’s Walter Younger (P Diddy) who feels ashamed for driving a limousine as a career; his wife Ruth (Audra McDonald) who is pregnant with their second child and works as a housemaid, the matriarch is Lena (Phylicia Rashad) who also works as a housemaid, but retains her pride in her work and family. His sister Beneatha (Sanaa Lathan) is close to her dream of going to university to be a doctor.
The story begins after Walter's father has died and the family receives a tidy sum of insurance money, which Lena holds close to her. Walter wants to make his own mark on the world and invest in a liquor store business. Lena disappoints Walter when she buys a house in a white neighbourhood. Their move to the suburbs is complicated when the family receives backlash by the racist neighbours. Walter feels emasculated until Lena reveals she has saved some money for Walter to do what he pleases. Will Walter do the right thing and use it wisely for the security of his family? Walter’s ego gets the better of him and he finds himself in a situation where he can save face, at the expense of his dignity.
The film feels like a Hallmark Sunday Movie. Kenny Leon’s adaptation does little to update or invigorate the 50 year old play. Though there wasn’t much Mr. Leon could have done with the multiple speeches the characters have to say – after all it’s Lorraine Hansbury’s words which has to be kept in tact. The film therefore remains short on subtly. The characters’ inner feelings are always expressed with spot on and lengthy speeches of emotional catharsis.
Hanbury’s characters are still manipulated archetypes brought to life to create simple conflict. Walter Younger is still as foolish as ever, naïvely handing over his fortune in his botched investment scheme. Beneatha Younger still has the same conundrum of which man she should choose – the right man or the wrong man. She still chooses the right man. And Lena is still the all-knowing wise matriarch. Saying all that, I still found myself rooting for them to succeed and overcome their hardships.
“A Raisin in the Sun” is essentially a story about pride, and how the temptation of money can easily compromise that. The film can be simplicistic and old fashioned, but its core values haven’t changed. They are still relevant and, with the right mindset, “A Raisin in the Sun” can be a surprisingly entertaining film. Enjoy.