Generally favorable reviews - based on 27 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 21 out of 27
  2. Negative: 1 out of 27

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Critic Reviews

  1. 90
    Honeydripper is classic Sayles cinema: an insightful sketch of assorted common folk whose criss-crossing dreams and agendas unfold against larger, more powerful (and sometimes crushing) sociopolitical and cultural forces.
  2. Reviewed by: John Anderson
    The result is one of Sayles' best films. The music, a mix of blues, seminal rock and newcomer Gary Clark Jr.'s performance, will be an obvious draw, as will the performances by some leading African-American actors.
  3. 88
    Rich with characters and flowing with music.
  4. 80
    Music may be Honeydripper's most indelible element and Sayles and longtime collaborator, composer Mason Daring, seamlessly incorporate several original songs alongside the soundtrack's period tunes.
  5. 80
    Honeydripper offers a leisurely, atmospheric production with lots of time to appreciate his largely African-American cast, along with rocking musical interludes and just the faintest wash of spirituality.
  6. Danny Glover, as hard-rock reliable as Spencer Tracy in his prime, plays onetime pianist Tyrone "Pine Top" Purvis.
  7. It's about ordinary people living in the shadow of nagging, day-to-day racism, and about the music that reminds them of what's right with the world rather than what's wrong.
  8. Typical of a pretty good Sayles movie. There are few, if any, heroes and villains.
  9. 75
    With Honeydripper, Sayles has done what he always does: bring together a group of characters and allow us to relish their interaction. His affection for the characters is both obvious and infectious. We like them, warts and all.
  10. In its first half, Honeydripper trickles. In its second, it really flows.
  11. 75
    ''Everything got a rhythm, even pulling cotton off the plant,'' a field hand offers helpfully. Like his eager young bluesman when he finally hits the stage, Sayles hits exactly the right notes.
  12. John Sayles ventures into August Wilson territory with Honeydripper.
  13. The subtlety is the beauty of it.
  14. His heart -- and musical soul -- is in the right place, but the film makes you at times uncomfortable with black and Southern stereotypes that may hinder some from fully enjoying an otherwise benign and cheerful tall tale of the Saturday night when rock came to rural Alabama.
  15. 70
    At its best when the characters sit around, dither, and ruminate. Moviemaking seems to have become almost magically easy for this independent writer-director. He builds a detailed atmosphere, brings his good people and his bad together, and lets them jabber at one another; the virtuosity is rhetorical rather than visual.
  16. 67
    There are precisely zero surprises in how things play out--the main thread is basically "Big Night" revisited--but the film gets better as it goes along, and it closes with a rousing musical flourish, as immensely charismatic newcomer Clark Jr. finally hits the stage. At last, Sayles' sleepy drama wakes with a start.
  17. There is a great movie to be made about the first stirrings of rock 'n' roll. Honeydripper is not that film, but it certainly whets your appetite for it.
  18. Honeydripper’s story isn’t anything you haven’t seen a dozen times before, but where Sayles succeeds (where Sayles always succeeds) is in his ability to dramatize the psychological and linguistic details that give identity to a subculture struggling for survival.
  19. Like previous films by the literary-minded auteur John Sayles, Honeydripper takes forever to develop its characters, its period and its location. But once it's done all that, the payoffs are rich.
  20. Reviewed by: Ty Burr
    Has John Sayles finally lost his mojo? How anyone could take a subject like the moment the Delta blues went electric and suck the joy and fury out of it is anybody's guess, but the talky, dull "Honeydripper" represents playwriting rather than filmmaking. And didactic playwriting at that.
  21. A contemplative fable, Honeydripper locates the moment but misses the heart-pounding, gut-wrenching explosion -- the history is there, the thrill isn't.
  22. Honeydripper is agreeable, well-intentioned and very, very slow. Sadly, it illustrates the difference between an archetype and a stereotype. When the first falls flat, it turns into the other and becomes a cliché.
  23. Reviewed by: Anna Hart
    A gentle, enjoyable musical fable.
  24. True to his stolid, humanist instincts and characteristically stodgy directorial style, writer-director John Sayles creates a story more educational than engrossing.
  25. 50
    The movie is well-acted, but it's as talky as if it were written for the stage, with fatally slow pacing. Strictly for hard-core Sayles fans and maybe for lovers of American roots music.
  26. 30
    Trudging nobly under a mantle of impeccably earnest intentions and a fussy, too-quaint-by-half production design, Honeydripper lags and drags to its utterly predictable end. There's not a spark of spontaneity or soul about it.
User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 7 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 4 out of 6
  2. Negative: 1 out of 6
  1. LuckyJ
    Sep 21, 2008
    Any John Sayles film is worth a look. Consider "Alien vs. Predator: Requiem" before you start handing out zeros in such a cavalier fashion. Any John Sayles film is worth a look. Consider "Alien vs. Predator: Requiem" before you start handing out zeros in such a cavalier fashion. (cancelling your stat-skewing, tw, ftw) Full Review »
  2. JayH.
    Jun 19, 2008
    Lackluster period detail and a very slow moving story hinder this from working well. The acting is quite good at least, but is a bit Lackluster period detail and a very slow moving story hinder this from working well. The acting is quite good at least, but is a bit melodramatic. Rather talky which makes at at times tedious. Full Review »
  3. ChadS.
    Apr 19, 2008
    After lukewarm responses for both "Casa de los Babys" and "Silver City", the godfather of the American independent film movement steps down After lukewarm responses for both "Casa de los Babys" and "Silver City", the godfather of the American independent film movement steps down from his soapbox, for the interim, and goes back in time, to immerse the moviegoer inside the phantasmagorical world of the imagined south, made hyper-real by such "regional" writers as William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor. Tyrone Purvis(Danny Glover) owns a two-bit juke-joint, a house of spiritual uplift in its own right, but nevertheless, a watering hole is still just a watering hole, and not a church, by his god-fearing wife's standards. All black music can be traced back to the church, however; all black music was once touched by god. The juke-joint is like The Church of Christ Without Christ. "Guitar Sam"(Gary Clark Jr.) is the man with "wise blood". He knows that the electric guitar is the new jesus of cool. Tyrone might not be a preacher, and his juke-joint might not be a church, but both man and institution are sanctified by music and share an aversion to blood. Flavor Flav(of Public Enemy) once barked, "Honeydripper/sucker sipper/big dipper/sucker dipper," back when the reality TV star was "on a hype tip", incidentally, around the same time that this director made his last period piece film. The one about the coal miners. Once again, we're "Cold Lampin' with Say-le Sayles", twenty years later, with arguably his best film since 1987's "Matewan"(certainly, this is his most accesible outing since 1996's "Lone Star"). When Delilah(Lisa Gay Hamilton) chooses her husband over her church, we realize that she's Lily Sabbath all grown up. It's not the first time she has left a blind preacher for a blind sinner, her husband, the one with a murder rap like Hazel Motes. "Honeydripper", aside from the film's racial component, is about the synchronicity between spiritual and secular music. But there's racial tension, too. It's unavoidable. As racist sheriffs go, though, this sheriff(Stacy Keach) isn't Sheriff Charlie Wade-bad(from "Lone Star", the sheriff played by Kris Kristofferson). "Honeydripper" avoids the usual trappings of other historical films that deal with institutionalized racism(the only burning in this film is a guitar burning), in favor of showing the prevailing caste system between northern and southern "Negroes". "Lone Star" was about race. "Honeydripper" is more about music. And in that respect, "Honeydripper" is his least political movie, albeit politics are rife on the screen, since 1994's "The Secret of Roan Inish". His leftist politics doesn't smother the narrative in pedagogy, this time. Nobody gets lynched. Full Review »