Soul Food

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Undermining the widely held belief that music is the food of love, this warm and pleasant, if slightly simplistic, picture suggests that it is food, in fact, which is the food of love, and that the strength of your family bonds can be measured in the quality of your sweet potato pie. Or something like that.

Seen through the wide eyes of youthful narrator Ahmad (Brandon Hammond), as yet unjaded by one Christmas spat too many, the bickersome babble at cuddly matriarch Mother Joe's (Irma P. Hall) artery-furring Sunday spreads is a thing of both drama and joy. But when she suddenly exchanges kitchen for coma, Ahmad watches in horror as his relatives turn on, and away from, each other with bitter relish.

His lively but reliable mum Maxine (Fox) is dividing time between being very pregnant and rowing furiously with high-powered career sis Teri (Williams), who is herself neglecting frustrated musician hubbie Miles (Michael Beach), and not spotting the danger signs when flighty cousin Faith (Gina Ravera) comes to stay. And then there's youngest sibling Bird (Long), newly wed to ex-con Lem (Mekhi Phifer), and prepared to go to inadvisable lengths to help him get restarted in life.

Echoes of Waiting To Exhale are obvious, but this is a more smiley affair altogether, with perhaps a spoonful too much sugar stirred in at times, and emotional development often mixed from the most basic of recipes.

But you can safely perm any two or three of this capable ensemble as major names of the future - with Fox and Williams currently best placed - but all showing well in Tillman Jr.'s affectionate and lightly spiced ode to family, largely informed by his own experience, championing the importance of loyalty and that blood is thicker than chicken stock. But only just.