|One True Thing
If nothing else, audiences know that almost any movie that
features Meryl Streep will be worth sitting through. Sure like most
performers she's come a cropper a handful of times (think She-Devil,
for instance), but it is never her fault. Streep is a consummate
professional and no matter what the circumstances delivers. From her
first appearance as a bitchy friend of Lillian Hellman's in Julia (1977)
to her trio of star-making turns the following year to 1995's The Bridges
of Madison County, the actress has crafted memorable characterizations.
Off-screen, she has attempted to maintain as normal a life as possible,
concentrating on raising her four children, which makes her undertaking
the role of Kate Gulden in One True Thing so poignant. Streep plays
a career wife and mother, the seemingly perfect homemaker who delights
in arts and crafts, participates wholeheartedly in a local ladies
organization (the Minnies) and constantly makes sacrifices for her loved
ones that are often overlooked and underappreciated. William Hurt plays
her husband, on the surface a stereotypical college professor and
award-winning author with demanding standards that he applies equally
to his students and his family. Renée Zellweger is their daughter Ellen,
an ambitious magazine writer living in Manhattan who idolizes her father
and has what may be termed "issues" with her mother and has an on-again,
off-again relationship with her commitment-phobic boyfriend.
Screenwriter Karen Croner structures the film as an interview that
features flashbacks which often are at odds with Ellen's recounting. Ellen
returns home for her father's birthday which is a costume party where
guests are to portray their favorite characters from literature. Her younger
brother (Tom Everett Scott), home from Harvard, has made an attempt by
donning a deerstalker but Ellen and her friend Jules (Lauren Graham) arrive
all in black. ("I'm Lizzie Borden," she later tells a guest. "You know, took
an axe and gave her mother forty whacks.") The tension between mother
and daughter is palpable from the start. She later seeks out her father
to get his reaction to a magazine article and is hurt when he merely
tells her "Less is more." When Ellen later learns her mother has been
diagnosed with cancer, her father asks her to move back home to care
for her. Bristling at first as it means a disruption to her job and career,
Ellen relents and the bulk of the film is how she comes to understand
and know her parents as the complex adults they are.
As he demonstrated in his previous films, director Carl Franklin is
an actor's director and what actors he has to work with this time. There
isn't another American actor who can project the admixture of arrogance,
intelligence and sympathy than William Hurt. Like Donald Sutherland
in another domestic drama built around tragedy Ordinary People, he
projects the authority of a man used to getting his own way. Inevitably
that facade must crack and Hurt is terribly sympathetic in those scenes.
Meryl Streep simply adds another to her galaxy of superlative
characterizations. There are not enough encomiums for this extraordinary
actress. From the way she uses her voice (high-pitched and sweet at
the outset, deeper and richer as she becomes progressively sicker),
Streep gives a multi-layered performance filled with bravura moments.
The real key to the film, however, is the anchoring performance of Renée
Zellweger. Physically, she is perfect — one can easily imagine her as
the daughter of Streep and Hurt. Emotionally, the actress is given her
most complicated screen character since her breakthrough role in
Jerry Maguire. Zellweger has the hardest role as she must be both a
hard-nosed professional journalist and revert to the little girl inside as
she assume the care of Kate. Her Ellen goes from a domestic incompetent
to a full-fledged member of the ladies' club (where the motto is "More
is more"). As she grows closer to her mother and more estranged from
her father, Zellweger skillfully negotiates the delicate emotions and
seemingly never hits a false note.
Carl Franklin has allowed the actors to dominate in lieu of fancy
camera tricks and he is ably abetted by Declan Quinn's clean
cinematography. There are a number of well-staged set pieces, from
a Thanksgiving dinner with unexpected guests to Ellen's angry outburst
at her boyfriend (Nicky Katt in an unctuously thankless role). One of
the most moving sequences is a Christmas Eve tree lighting where the
weakened Streep exerts her will and stands with the ladies' group while
a choir sings "Silent Night" and the camera moves from family member
to family member as each makes the realization that this probably
will be Kate's last holiday.
One True Thing was based on Anna Quindlen's best-selling,
semi-autobiographical novel and the filmmakers and actors have crafted
a moving tale of what it means to be a family. As we approach the
millennium and cope daily with issues of morality and our place in a
confusing time, it is perhaps cathartic for audiences to be able to go
to a darkened theater and be reminded what it means to make a
human connection and to realize that sometimes we must make
sacrifices in our lives to learn important life lessons.
MPAA Rating: R for language
Running time: 127 mins.
|© 2007 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.