Last night, ABC ran its premiere of Their Eyes Were Watching God, adapted from Zora Neale Hurston’s novel of the same name. You can read my review of the novel here. I enjoyed the movie. I thought the casting was excellent, especially Halle Berry as Janie. The soundtrack was excellent and very appropriate. The acting was subtle — much was communicated with the simplest gesture or look. However, some of the charm of the dialect was lost. I heard it come through at times in the dialogue, but not like I remembered in the novel. Also, the scene in which Janie finally tells Jody off did not even come close to the power that scene had in the novel. Janie was still way too meek. That scene is my major gripe about this adaptation. I felt that it was a bit hard to believe that Janie wouldn’t age at all over the course of 20 years.
The actor who played Tea Cake, Michael Ealy, had a great deal of magnetism, and his chemistry with Berry was palpable. My first thought when he came on the screen was, “Uh-oh… here come Tea Cake…” If you had read the book, you just knew him as soon as he came onscreen.
Much of storytelling is taken out, and the trial is deleted entirely, but the cast perfectly caught the gossipy old hens on their porch whispering about Janie and Tea Cake, and I teared up when Tea Cake and Janie danced. I was thinking of Zora Neale Hurston. I was thinking that this book was published in 1937 and basically died. It wasn’t resurrected until Alice Walker came along. It wasn’t part of the canon of American Literature until very recently. What a vindication for Hurston, who must have known what a fine book she had written.
The costumes were historically accurate — very beautiful clothes for Janie and everyone else dressed as I imagined. The juke joint in the Everglades was perfect. Watching Tea Cake’s descent into rabies was touching and sad.
At several points, Janie references the title of the book in the movie. I felt that was overdone for those watchers who were unfamiliar with the book. The title comes from the scene when the hurricane is coming, and it seems out of place and odd for Janie to keep telling us, when she looks up, that she’s watching God.
Overall, I have to give it a high rating. It was very enjoyable.