It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
There is a moment in Maya Angelou's "Down in the Delta" when a Chicago woman applies for a job in a supermarket and cannot pass a math test. Turned down, she leaves the store and buys a bottle. Her feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness come through so painfully that we understand, with a surge of empathy, why her life has grown so complicated: She has experienced versions of this rejection for years, and booze or reefer at least offers a brief oblivion.
The woman is named Loretta, and she is played by Alfre Woodard in a performance that is like an act of sympathy with the character. Loretta lives in the Chicago projects with her mother Rosa Lynn (Mary Alice) and her two children. Thomas (Mpho Koaho) is bright and hard-driving, taking Polaroids of tourists on Rush Street for $5 to make money. Tracy (Kulani Hassen), the baby, is autistic. For years Rosa Lynn has watched her daughter sleep late, sleep around, get drunk and keep her life on hold. In an early scene, we see Rosa telephone Loretta to wake her up in the morning. She reminds Loretta to feed the baby. Loretta puts some Coca-Cola in a baby bottle.
Rosa Lynn decides things have to change. She delivers an ultimatum: Either Loretta agrees to take her children and spend the summer in the family home on the Mississippi Delta, or Rosa Lynn calls in the child welfare people to take the kids. Loretta has to agree. Rosa Lynn pawns an 1852 silver candelabra, a family heirloom, to finance the trip, which places Loretta and her kids in the hands of her brother-in-law Earl (Al Freeman Jr.).
Uncle Earl runs a diner and employs a local woman (Loretta Devine) to care for his wife Annie (Esther Rolle), who has Alzheimer's. He's not crazy about taking in three visitors for the summer--especially since he and his sister Rosa have been arguing over that candelabra for years. Loretta doesn't fit in well at first, and her city son doesn't immediately take to the country. But eventually family feelings and values begin to take hold.