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Anywhere But Here

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Anywhere But Here

Starring: Susan Sarandon, Natalie Portman
Director: Wayne Wang
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 115 Minutes
Release Date: November 1999
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Shawn Hatosy, Hart Bochner, Bonnie Bedelia, Eileen Ryan, John Diehl, Ray Baker

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

Poohbear. In ANYWHERE BUT HERE, high school student Ann August has to endure her irritating mother, Adele, calling her "poohbear." It's bad enough that her mother is so unreliable that their electricity keeps getting turned off because her mother doesn't pay the bills. In a classic love/hate relationship, Ann barely tolerates her eccentric mother's mannerisms, but her mother is the only constant in her life.

In an endearing role as Ann, Natalie Portman (who, as Queen Amidala in STAR WARS EPISODE 1, became this generation's Princess Leia) steals the show. With lips that advance and recede like ocean surf and with eyes that roll like ocean swells, she delivers a sweet and delicately nuanced performance.

Much less satisfying is Susan Sarandon as Ann's irritating and flamboyant mother. The chemistry between them is sometimes interesting but never quite believable. Sarandon successfully makes her character unlikable but has trouble making it credible.

Director Wayne Wang (THE JOY LUCK CLUB) has tonal problems from the film's beginning. A hybrid that the press notes describe as a "comedy-drama," the movie suffers from never being enough of either. The tone is that of a drama, yet the memorable lines are those of a comedy. The result is a drama that doesn't have much emotional impact and a comedy that produces a few random smiles and almost no laughs.

The plot has the mother-daughter pair (Adele dumps her second husband for the sin of boredom) leaving a backwater town in Wisconsin for the flash of an LA lifestyle. The constantly insolvent Adele manages to live in a string of unpaid apartments in Beverly Hills so that her daughter can go to the best school in the country. (You know the ZIP code.)

"This is like being kidnapped," Ann complains as they travel west to the city where everyone wants to be an actor. "I wish somebody would have kidnapped me when I was your age," her mother retorts. "So do I!" Ann snaps back. Like an inmate, Ann yearns to escape the clutches of her mother, whom she finds frequently embarrassing.

"It would be tragic to be wearing the wrong shoes when you meet the right guy," Adele says after she finally meets a rich, eligible man who asks her out. "I'm going to go shopping." This attitude of spend more than you make pretty much sums up Adele's philosophy of life. When you want to be rich, spend like you are and make up stories about your wealth. Don't let not having money get in your way.

Some of the more successful individual scenes include a poignant one in which Ann calls her father, who doesn't want anything to do with her, and a humorous one in which an awkward boy drops by for a kiss.

Even if the movie has to be categorized as a near miss, Portman's work in it is completely satisfying in its subtle emotional depth. Watching her work is almost worth the price of admission.

Copyright 1999 Steve Rhodes

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