Adapted from a popular children’s book by Kate DiCamillo, Because of Winn-Dixie is a morality tale drained of all blood by director Wayne Wang. In the film, Opal (newcomer AnnaSophia Robb, soon to be seen in Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and her father, Preacher (Jeff Daniels), arrive in the fictional town of Naomi, Florida, where the little girl has a difficult time making friends and continues to cope with the mysterious departure of her mother many years ago. At the local Winn-Dixie she claims ownership of a stray dog that will become the catalyst for the girl’s friendship with a number of eccentric locals: Miss Franny (Eva Marie Saint), a spinster who runs the local library; Gloria (Cicely Tyson), a blind woman and ex-drunk who the local children perceive to be a witch; and Otis (Dave Matthews), an ex-con who tends to his cousin’s pet store. The stories and anecdotes these adults relate to their young friend make for the film’s loveliest bits, none more evocative than Gloria’s explanation of how each liquor bottle that hangs from a tree in her backyard represents a sin from her past—these poetic rituals perpetuate healing and serve to bring everyone in the town together. Because Opal’s father is a preacher and just about everyone in town goes to the man’s service (held inside a food market that doubles for a church), it’s easy to read these moments as illustrations of Christian outreach, which they are in a way, except the film’s kindness really doesn’t have a denomination: It speaks to everyone, and it would be doing the film a great injustice if Christian reviewers laid claim to its heart. That said, as lovely and tender as the film’s message may be, Wang’s anemic direction makes it a tough sit. Martin Ritt, whose Sounder gave Tyson the performance her career, might have done a better job grappling with the poverty that seems to cripple Naomi’s people and buildings. What there is of a community in the film doesn’t register as such because Wang’s camera is focused so tightly on the film’s characters it can’t be bothered to absorb any of the local color. It’s like one half of a Willa Cather novel: The moral backbone is there but its social spine has been ripped out.
- Wayne Wang
- Joan Singleton
- AnnaSophia Robb, Jeff Daniels, Cicely Tyson, Dave Matthews, Eva Marie Saint, Courtney Jines, Nick Price, Luke Benward, Elle Fanning
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: