The Beans of Egypt, Maine
Directed by Jennifer Warren. Starring Martha Plimpton, Kelly Lynch, Patrick McGraw, Richard Sanders, Rutger Hauer. (1994, R, 99 min.)
REVIEWED By Alison Macor, Fri., Feb. 10, 1995
Egypt, Maine is the other Maine, the part of the state that doesn't have Kennebunkport spreads and fresh-scrubbed, healthy complexions. Egypt is a depressed farming community now owned by paper companies, and the home of the Pomerleau and Bean families. Actress-turned-director Warren debuts behind the camera and takes author Carolyn Chute's first novel and adapts it with the help of screenwriter Bill Phillip to tell a charming, gritty tale of characters who are just trying to get by. The film's narrator is Earlene Pomerleau (Plimpton). She watches the Beans, who live on her father's property, from her picture window. Constantly warned by her father (Sanders) to stay away from the poverty-stricken Beans, Earlene is nonetheless fascinated by the dramas that swirl around the family. Patriarch Ruby Bean (Hauer) receives constant visits from the law, while his wife Roberta (Lynch) keeps having babies who look a lot like Ruby's cousin Beal (McGraw). The relationships are complex in this part of the country, and as Earlene grows up she becomes enmeshed in the life of her neighbors, eventually marrying Beal. Not much happens in this film, but the characters are so thoroughly fleshed out that watching them survive their lives nearly obscures the often lurching storyline. Plimpton infuses Earlene with a wisecracking stoicism. Without the help of makeup and only Plimpton's facial expressions, her character ages almost a thousand years in the film. Although he appears for only the first and last scenes of the film, Hauer is riveting as the explosive Ruby. Rarely has the actor been allowed such depth in so little screen time. McGraw successfully transforms Beal from a sweet-natured, lusty young boy into a man brutalized by Egypt's poverty and his own hardships. Finally, Lynch's Roberta is a complex mix of vulnerability and sharp-eyed pragmatism. Lynch's talents are often underappreciated in part because they shine in lesser-seen “small” films like this one. Not having read the novel I cannot compare it with the film although in talking to those familiar with Chute's work the adaptation seems faithful. Perhaps some of Chute's descriptions will have greater impact on the screen. The scene in which a raincoated Roberta and her band of small children rescue Earlene from a numbing depression portrays tenderness in hues of yellow and grey. With their hooded slickers the children seem like sweet ducklings as they cluster around Roberta, clucking over the filth that Earlene has let accumulate even as they help her into a wheelchair. The Beans of Egypt, Maine is an interesting little film, much like its characters. It is rough around the edges, but it's worth sticking around for.