Adapted from Anna Quindlen's acclaimed novel, One True Thing
is the latest film in the terminal disease cum moving women's
melodrama genre (Stepmom, Beaches, etc). It's sure to have sensitive
audiences reaching for their tissues, while others will easily resist
its more cynically manipulative designs.
The film explores familiar territory, but first time screen
writer Karen Croner brings some rich emotional depths to the material.
The film is also an insightful exploration of the complex and
uncomfortable relationship between parents and their children.
Ellen Gulden (Renee Zellweger, from Jerry Maguire, etc) is
establishing her own career as a journalist in New York, when she
comes home for a family visit. Ambitious, hard and unforgiving, Ellen
has always viewed these visits home as intolerable. She has always
idolised her father George (William Hurt), a brilliant academic and
writer, while she looks down upon her mother Kate (Meryl Streep), who
has devoted her life to domestic duties and community work.
The family is stricken when Kate is diagnosed with terminal
cancer. Ellen is reluctantly persuaded to put her career on hold and
remain home to care for her. She eventually comes to view both her
family and the wider community from her mother's perspective, which
unexpectedly changes her own outlook. She comes to appreciate her
mother's hidden strengths, while finally recognising her father's
flaws and failures.
One True Thing is a fairly downbeat experience, and there is
precious little relief from its litany of pain, suffering and misery.
It has all the elements of being a first class tearjerker, but this
potentially moving drama is let down by some lapses in judgement from
director Carl Franklin. Better known for his superb crime thrillers
One False Move, Devil In A Blue Dress, Franklin seems a little
uncomfortable with the demands of this domestic drama.
Part of the problem lies in the clumsy structure, clearly a
hangover from the novel. The film unfolds in a series of extended
flashbacks as Ellen relates the tragic story behind her mother's death
to the local district attorney. This cumbersome device only serves to
slow down the film and interrupt the smooth flow of the devastating
Franklin however seems more comfortable working with his
actors, and he draws marvellous performances from his three stars.
Streep is typically superb, and her beautifully understated
performance is both painfully realistic and moving. Although Streep
was nominated for an Oscar, it is Zellweger who delivers the more
demanding performance. Her character undergoes the greatest change
during the course of the movie, moving from vulnerability and awkward
lack of confidence to discover hidden reserves of strength. Hurt is
effective in a more restrained, low key but intelligent performance.
Unfortunately, as Streep dies a slow and lingering death, the
film slowly dies along with her. One True Thing ultimately seems far
too long to have the desired emotional impact, and many within the
audience will tire of the film well before its climactic revelation.
Copyright © 2000 Greg King