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Soul Food Reviews

A messy, good-natured paean to the power of food and family to fix what ails you. Mama Joe's (Irma P. Hall) three grown girls are a handful: Eldest Teri (Vanessa Williams), an attorney, is the most financially successful of the three and never lets anyone forget it; her marriage to Miles (Michael Beach), a fellow lawyer with musical aspirations, is on the rocks. Middle sister Max (Vivica A. Fox) has three children and a solid marriage to Kenneth (Jeffrey D. Sams), whom she stole from Teri when they were roller-boogying teens. And pint-sized bombshell Bird (Nia Long) is struggling with both her new hairdressing business and her new husband Lem (Mekhi Phifer), whose criminal past hampers his efforts to be an upright provider. Mama Joe's Sunday dinners -- diet-busting orgies of fried catfish, macaroni and cheese, chitlins, baked ham, collard greens, biscuits, cornbread and peach cobbler -- hold the family together, and she hasn't been in the hospital a week before everything begins to fall apart. Sure, writer-director George Tillman Jr.'s modern-day melodrama is glossy, theatrical soap opera: the characters are broadly drawn, the conflicts predictable, the emotions big and gaudy. But it's also old-fashioned family drama that invites audience participation ("Don't you go making eyes at your cousin's husband, you little slut!"), and is surprisingly satisfying, in a gooey kind of way -- like macaroni and cheese or peach cobbler, perhaps.