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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

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Harvey Karten review follows ---
2.  Marty Mapes read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
3.  Steve Rhodes read the review movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
4.  MrBrown read the review movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
5.  Edward Johnson-Ott read the review ---

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

As I was leaving the theater playing "Anywhere But Here," I realized that the movie had contributed a personal insight. This wasn't an intuition that came on me like an epiphany but more like one that strengthened a belief I had always had but about which I needed more convincing. When I was thirteen years old, about to graduate from junior high school, I received an acceptance letter from Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. To this day Stuyvesant is a special place, a competitive school for kids who pass a rigorous entrance exam. I happened to be the only one in my JHS to be so lucky, so you can imagine my disappointment when my mom announced that I was instead to go to a different place--a prep school which she had chosen for me and for which she and my dad would have to work even harder to afford. I didn't particularly rebel against this decision of theirs but rather felt unable to resist her determination to send me there. Years, even decades later, I wondered about her real motivation.

Now with "Anywhere But Here" comes a story that clarifies her resolve. Like the character of Adele August, she wanted what was best for me, what might open more doors in my future. If this sounds in hindsight like a simple enough piece of wisdom--the "duh" factor--strangely enough this had scarcely entered my mind at the time.

If a book, play, or movie can clarify some important facet of our own lives, then that's a big plus for the art form; is it not? "Anywhere But Here" may be conventional as coming-of-age dramas go, but with photographer Roger Deakins's sharp, wide-lens photography throughout forty locations in Los Angeles, Alvin Sargent's solid screenplay from Mona Simpson's novel (and one which avoids excessive sentimentality), and most of all some absolutely wonderful performances by Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman as a mother and daughter team in conflict, the film is a remarkable achievement. Its skillful direction by Wayne Wang, whose "Joy Luck Club" gives him all the credentials he needs for helming such a drama, is not the least of the reasons for its successful, down-to-earth portrayal of family rivalry and reconciliation.

The most arresting twist of this comedy-drama is a reversal of the roles we usually expect from parents and their children. Adele August (Susan Sarandon) is the mother of a 14-year- old girl, Ann (Natalie Portman), but as you watch them driving across half the country from Bay City, Wisconsin to Beverly Hills, California, you'd not know from their actions which was the adult and which the child. Adele, a bouncy, Auntie Mame type, turns up the radio to a Beach Boys' rendition of "Surfin' Safari," bopping along to the music, singing the lyrics lustily, while her teen daughter mopes on the passenger side complaining "I hate the Beach Boys." Ann is furious and depressed that she is being "kidnapped" by her mom, taken away from the small town she loves which includes all her friends and especially the cousin she dearly loves, Benny (Shawn Hatosy). In Ann's mind, her mother is selfish, simply wanting to get away from her second husband, a nice guy but one whom Adele considers boring. Not for Adele is a lifelong partnership with a guy who will always be an ice skating instructor and a claustrophobic town full of people who look forward to a life's career as supermarket checkers. Instead, Adele wants her daughter to take up a career in acting, one in which the young woman has no interest. How's that for role reversal?

Director Wang exploits the talents of these two first-rate performers wonderfully, displaying for us a collage of episodes that, taken together, elegantly defines the character of these people. Adele's vulnerability, hiding only slightly beneath her bluster, emerges when she confuses a one-night stand with a dashing orthodontist with true romance. But in a great many situations she is on the money. In one scene, she is dropping her understandably anxious daughter off at her new school in Beverly Hills. "They look like they're going to the beach," Ann protests upon seeing kids that could have come out of Amy Heckerling's "Clueless." "The intelligent ones are inside," comforts her mom.

Wayne Wang may want us at first to share Ann's belief that her mom is looking out only for herself each time he shows Adele grasping for material goods. In one comic display, the two are about to check into the Beverly Hills Hotel. Discovering that the room would be $1200 a night, Adele complains that the lodging is too small and asks for a villa, breathing more easily when she is told that there are none left that week. Adele's embarrassment at her lack of funds comes to a head when the electricity in their ordinary flat in the unfashionable part of Beverly Hills is shut off.

Throughout the film, however, we see that mother and daughter need each other despite their arguments: that mom is terrified about losing her, and Ann, for all her whining, both needs and has a great affection for Adele. As the picture approaches its conclusion, we're all aware that this portrayal of the most basic relationship we have will come to an optimistic conclusion. But as we ride along with the duo's 1978 Mercedes from occasion to episode, we realize that this movie, while perhaps more appealing to women in the audience (whose male friends would rather see Ms. Portman in "The Phantom Menace"), is not a chick flick. We've all had mothers and none of us can honestly claim an unabashedly joyous connection with them. Fortunate is each of us indeed when we discover, as does the beautiful and talented Ann, that "when she dies, the world will be flat...too reasonable."

Copyright 1999 Harvey Karten

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