Soul Food tells the story of Big Mama (Irma P. Hall) and her extended family, primarily her three grown daughters. There's Teri (Vanessa L. Williams), the eldest, and most responsible of the three. She and her husband, Miles (Michael Beach), are both lawyers, but her coldness is driving them apart.
Next comes Maxine (Vivica A. Fox), who lives the most stable life of the three sisters. She's happily married to Kenny (Jeffrey D. Sams) and has two-and-a-half kids, one of whom, Ahmad (Brandon Hammond), narrates the film.
And finally, there's Bird (Nia Long). The film opens with her wedding, where she marries one-time con, Lem (Mekhi Phifer).
Big Mama enforces a 40 year old family tradition of the sunday dinner, where the whole family gathers to talk (or argue) over a heaping table of home-cooked soul food. However, when Big Mama goes to the hospital, the tradition is shattered, and the family begins to break apart.
There is good ensemble acting all around. However, standouts are the always reliable Irma P. Hall, the volatile Mekhi Phifer and narrator Brandon Hammond.
The stories told in Soul Food are nearly as rich as the food itself. All of the characters are well drawn, and their conflicts are realistic and touching. Only occasionally do events get a bit too melodramatic, but they don't linger there long, and soon return to the realm of normalcy.
Soul Food's main problem is that, although it is fairly realistic in its development of the family problems, they're solutions seem to come a bit too easily. It's like watching a sitcom, in which all of the episode's problems are neatly resolved at the end. It's not bad that they resolved the issues, it's just the way it is done is so irritatingly simple that it disrupts the flow of the movie.
Soul Food is a simple movie. It doesn't try for too much, but where it tries, it mostly succeeds.
[R - some strong sexuality and language] (Fox)