Sophie and the Rising Sun
Sophie: Julianne Nicholson
Grover: Takashi Yamaguchi
Anne: Margo Martindale
Runtime: 116 minutes
Given the recent headlines in the newspaper, concerning travel bans and the indefinite suspension of Syrian refugees from entering the country, Sophie and the Rising Sun will seem relevant to audiences, illustrating there has always been a fear of “the other” in director Maggie Greenwald’s tale of xenophobia, interracial love and racism set against the backdrop of America entering World War II.
In a town, unsure what to do with him and suspicious of foreigners, it is decided the best place for Grover to heal is in the home of the town’s widower, Anne (Margo Martindale), who is herself initially hesitant to be burdened with such a duty, but reluctantly agrees, positioning her to be the movie’s moral center.
The “Sophie” referred to in the title is a young woman with a mysterious past (played by Julianne Nicholson), who at first, we suspect, may also be prejudiced against foreigners and Grover in particular. It is Sophie and Grover’s identity the movie will take its time revealing.
Sophie and the Rising Sun is a well-intended movie, but in its third act, it feels as if it loses some of its focus. Much is made of Anne listening to news on the radio of war in Europe, and when Pearl Harbor is attacked, the town, which thought Grover was Chinese, learns he is Japanese, and proclaims him the enemy. Misguided patriotic pride causing violence follows. At this point the interracial romance is given more screen time, pushing the war-time sentiment aside, and becomes one of those movies about a small town and a nosey neighbor (played by Diane Ladd) interfering in the love affair of two people, gossiping that the woman isn’t acting lady like.
There is much to enjoy during the film’s first two acts, especially the social message, and the wonderful performances given by Martindale, Nicholson and Ladd. While neither Martindale nor Nicholson, who co-starred in August: Osage County (2013), are leading ladies, the movie allows them the opportunity to shine. It is worth the price of admission just to see their performances.
Director Greenwald may be best known for Songcatcher (2000), which featured similar themes, including prejudice. She gives her movies a sensitive, romantic quality, but she seems more interested in her female characters’ relationships rather than the romance between the male and female character.
Those with a knowledge of film history may watch Sophie and the Rising Sun and think of the multiple Academy Award nominated film Sayonara (1957) starring Marlon Brando about an Air Force pilot who falls in love with a Japanese woman. This movie is a classic considered one of the most significant Hollywood movies of its time to address interracial romance. I can’t really say the same about Sophie and the Rising Sun. This is more a movie about the bond between women with war and prejudice in the background.