A Taste of Honey (1961)
Reviewed on 2009 February 15
You know that e.e. cummings poem that starts “damn everything but the circus”? This movie is 100 minutes of everything cummings railed against, depicted in black and white Bleak-O-Vision and laced with enough humor to keep you watching. Really, the only squawk I have against the movie, besides the fact it’s a bit dated, is the fact some movie synopses describe Rita Tushingham as a “plain” girl. Yeah, right. If she could have traded the 1961 helmet hair for a decent razor cut and Kevin Aucoin could have taken a crack at those eyes, I know plenty of girls — myself included — who would have been delighted to be that “plain” in high school.
Jo (Tushingham) is about to wrap up her schooling in Northern England, and the movie starts with a great sequence of a bunch of school girls during P.E. class. Apparently our sisters across the pond had the same love for gym that most of us Yankee girls did as kids; Jo would plainly rather be anywhere else than smacking the ball around on that day. Not that her life is one of glamour or potential; gym is just another blip on the radar of an otherwise uneventful existence. Her mother Helen (Dora Bryan) isn’t much help to Jo; she only accidentally notices Jo’s real talent in art and sort of shrugs it off when Jo says she doesn’t see much point in pursuing it. Most mothers would use this some sort of launching point to help their daughters find a career, but Helen is much more interested in finding a husband. Jo is pretty much left to fend for herself, and she falls for a good-looking sailor, Jimmy (Paul Danquah), who seems to be the first person to pay any real attention to her.
It’s not a cheery story in the least, but the great natural acting, tough humor and stiff upper lip make it pass smoothly. I’m also surprised at the issues the movie tackled in 1961. If I discuss those I’m going to ruin it for people that have never seen it, but I think it’s very progressive that some of the plot points were even introduced in the early ’60s. Maybe some of the dialog and music age it prematurely, but otherwise this was well ahead of its time. The other thing that struck me was how the characters could have been sitting at your kitchen table, asking you for advice. As I said, the acting was very realistic. These could be your relatives having a row at your Christmas dinner.
Three chocolate morsels.