Saturday, October 08, 2005

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio - Movie Review

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio 2005

After the cinematic abortion of “In Her Shoes”, we were none to keen on having to go see another alleged “Heartwarming” tale, especially one that centered on a lower income family with ten children, whose father is a raging drunk and whose mother spends the time signing up for Corporate Product jingle contests.

Is the greenlight in Hollywood stuck? Has someone checked the fuse box? But then we happened to read some reviews. A couple of really good reviews. All of them showering praise on the lead actress, Julianne Moore and the inventive direction by writer / director Jane Anderson. Jane, you might remember did a similarly “based on a true story” of another gutsy real life mom on TV a few years back: “The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom.” Although that mom, savagely portrayed by Holly Hunter was not quite as nice as the mom in this flick.

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio” is that rare film going experience. A stylized comedy / drama that earns every one of its belly laughs and crocodile tears. And trust us, this one will make you break out the hanky. We were sobbing like a Sicilian widow by the end. But, we have managed to compose ourselves in time to write up our review.

First and foremost. There is one reason to go see this movie. Julianne Moore!! Moore, Moore, Moore!!!! This bitch has almost never let us down. (We won’t speak about that dead missing kid movie, we feel like we just saw it with Jodie Foster a few weeks back.) Now, the four time Oscar nominated star who managed to snag two of her noms for portraying 1950’s era housewives is about to complete the Trifecta. We hope. For the sake of the Academy, ‘cause if not, well let’s just say we’ve always had itchy trigger fingers and we hate to waste good ammo. But back to Miss Moore. The acting chops this broad has! While this film may provide jokesy fodder for the next lame ass host of the Oscars, they should have some respect for any actress that can play three pent up mid-century matrons and somehow manage to make each of them a distinct person. How do you keep doing it, Julianne? You are a real treasure for moviegoers. Quick quiz: Let’s play “Name the Julianne-50’s-housewife-stuck-in-a-rut-movie

Give up? Well, we’ll tell you. (From top to bottom) “Far From Heaven”, 50’s housewife married to hot gay husband and schtupping black gardener. “The Hours”, 50’s housewife married to schlub and battling depression. “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio”, 50’s housewife married to paunchy drunk and raising 10 kids on spare change. The paunchy drunk is portrayed by Woody Harrelson, who so impressed us years ago with his over the top and powerful portrayal of porn magnate Larry Flynt in Milos Forman’sThe People vs. Larry Flynt.” (Go rent it now!) Here, the bong-hitter is saddled with the thankless task of parlaying the villain of the piece. He succeeds nobly. Also helping out our heroine are Laura Dern as a fellow housefrau who makes up catchy jingles, and a horde of adolescent and child actors who have been engaged to portray the brood over the depicted decades.

Stand outs include Ellary Porterfield as their daughter, Tuff who ends up being the writer of the memoir that inspired this film. Also of note are three hot young twinks playing three of the boys. Anybody have Robert Clark’s phone number? Slurp.

As for the writer / director Jane Anderson. We are now fans. She treads a fine line between TV commercial inspired montages and fantasy elements to the real horror of domestic violence and abuse. She also knows that a good belly laugh will help assuage the pain of viewing a family dangerously close to losing everything at a moment’s notice. This film earns its yuks, in direct contrast to “In Her Shoes” which casually tossed out one-liners that failed miserably. While some may argue that the portrait of the father needs more fleshing out to help us understand why the mother would stay with him, we counter with this. What exactly were her options? Believe it or not, gentle readers. There was a time not so long ago that women were indeed trapped by their financial situation, societal pressure to marry and reproduce, or shamed into subservience by their religious institutions. Shocking, no? We think one scene in particular spoke hilariously and succinctly to the point at hand. As the family watches a beauty pageant on TV, one of the dimwitted contestants is questioned about the possibility of a female president. Her response? She would not vote for a woman because women are too high strung and nervous. Nice. Tell that to Julianne’s character as she saves pennies, manages her husband’s drunken rages, raises ten children almost single handedly, and still keeps her household sparkling clean.

While some moments may be hard to bear, we were chewing our nails to the nub in one tense scene when Julianne debates eating her own child.

(Okay, we’re kidding.) But the balancing act that La Moore pulls off when she is fighting bravely to keep her emotions in check for the sake of her family is astounding to watch. Julianne. You are a living legend. We bow down and lick her heels. We love you and are rooting for you come awards time. Brava!

What the hell are you waiting for? Go spend your hard earned dough on one of the most enjoyable and emotional films of the year! You’ll be glad we sent you. And don’t forget to bring your hankies with you. Bless you all!

Written and Directed by Jane Anderson
Based on the book by Terry Ryan

Julianne Moore as Evelyn Ryan
Woody Harrelson as Kelly Ryan
Laura Dern as Dortha Schaefer
Ellary Porterfield as Tuff Ryan
Robert Clark as Dick Ryan
Trevor Morgan as Bruce Ryan

Cinematography by Jonathan Freeman
Film Editing by Robert Dalva
Costume Design by Hala Bahmet
Original Music by John Frizzell
Production Design by Edward T. McAvoy
Art Direction by Andrew M. Stearn