It's always good to see a John Sayles movie. This passionate, committed filmmaker instils that sense in every frame, even when it's a film like Honeydripper which is some way below his best but, nevertheless, is a warm and watchable couple of hours.
Honeydripper is Sayles' off-kilter look at the birth of rock'n'roll, set against a tale of working class folk — but hey, you probably guessed that. In this instance, it's 1950s Alabama and the Honeydripper Lounge, the run down music shack owned by Tyrone Purvis (Glover). In debt to the liquor company and with his old-fashioned blues struggling to lure the local crowds away from rival bar Toussaint's, Purvis is approaching breaking point. His last remaining ace though is Guitar Sam, number one recording artist and his headliner this coming weekend.
Only Sam's a no show. After wondering if he and colleague Maceo (the excellent Dutton) can simply take the money, run and not get lynched, Purvis takes a shot on Sonny (Clark Jr), a drifter languishing in the local jail, who claims he can play as well as the missing Sam; or at least as well as Sam until Purvis can kill the power and run off with the cash.
It seems a slight tale by Sayles' high standards but, actually, scratch below the surface and there's lots going on, from the social structure and attitudes of the time to the sense of community via, of course, the point where gospel and blues went electric and rocked. Quite literally mate. Whether there's enough here to fully satisfy over two hours is debatable and Sayles does occasionally meander but there's still an easy charm to these weak points and some delightful ensemble playing.
• Honeydripper at IMDb