Normally Lifetime movies are nothing to get excited over. 90% of the movies they show are so cliché-riddled and terribly acted that it can be hard to get any enjoyment out of them. Sure there are a few exceptions every year where the channel tries to put some effort into their films, but even those fail to rise above the pack of other TV movies more often than not (for instance the Five films have an ambitious concept but ultimately still suffer from the same blandness that can be found in Lifetime’s other movies). So I was delighted to see that Lifetime was going to show The Trip to Bountiful with much of the cast from the 2013 Tony-award winning version of the play intact. Unfortunately, it is that cast that is left to keep this movie afloat. While the acting really is strong, the rest of the film still can’t get rid of the blandness found in so many other Lifetime movies.
The Trip to Bountiful follows Mrs. Watts (Cicely Tyson returning to her Tony Award-winning role), an old woman stuck between her love for a free lifestyle and her domineering daughter-in-law (Vanessa Williams). Having finally had enough of it all, Mrs. Watts decides that she is going to go on an adventure to visit her old home in Bountiful. That is if she can get there before her daughter-in-law and son (Blair Underwood) catch her. The movie is directed by Michael Wilson (who also helmed the stage version).
It’s quite odd to see a director with such familiarity with the material give a vision that feels so off. However, that is the case with Michael Wilson and this movie. Maybe he just feels more comfortable on the stage, but a lot was lost in translation to the screen. The intimacy that plays normally have is completely missing here, and you can see Wilson tried to give a grander scale to the production. However, the scale doesn’t come off as grand at all. Instead the movie comes across as a by-the-numbers interpretation of a story that probably has much more depth in other incarnations.
That being said the cast really is wonderful. Cicely Tyson will probably follow up that Tony with an Emmy as she carries the entire film on the back of her shoulders. She really is wonderful, but what is most impressive about her performance is how physically demanding it is. It seems like she is always on the move, and Tyson makes it look easy despite being 80 years old. Blair Underwood is also really impressive as Mrs. Watts’ son (taking over for Cuba Gooding Jr., who played this role in the play). The son probably has the most complete arc in the movie, and Underwood really hits it home with an important scene in the final act. Vanessa Williams also does solid work as she adds some dimension to what easily could have been a caricature while Keke Palmer makes it look easy as she stands in the shoes of Condola Rashad’s Tony-nominated performance as a passenger that Mrs. Watts meets on her journey.