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1000acres.jpg (81102 bytes)
click for full sized poster

A Thousand Acres

Starring Jessica Lange and Michelle Pfeiffer
Screenplay by Laura Jones
Adapted from the novel by Jane Smiley
Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse

IN SHORT: Big names and a big miss.

A Thousand Acres is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Jane Smiley and, as always, Cranky makes no comparison to the source material.

Let's be honest people, A Thousand Acres is a major chick flick. It's loaded with top of the A-list actresses to keep us guys interested. The movie, to succeed, would have to leave not a dry eye in the house. All my women friends expected to let loose the wetworks and flood those of us who had to be there out of the theater.

Sorry folks, it didn't happen.

As a movie, A Thousand Acres is an emotionally flat tale of two sisters -- there's a third but she is, unfortunately, a minor part of the movie -- who are deeded the family farm long before their dad kicks off. The townspeople think they've put something over on their old man and tongues are wagging. It's a small town; tongues do that. By the time it's over, the story has jumped from minor story to minor story -- a returned son, a father's mental breakdown, jealous neighbors, extramarital affairs, child abuse, cancer, repressed memory, civil lawsuits -- in short, more story than you can pack into two hours of film.

It is clear to all of us who sat through A Thousand Acres that screenwriter Laura Jones had little idea what to keep or discard from the original novel though Jones' last adaptation, of Henry James' Portrait of a Lady was much more painful to sit through. Even as someone out of the demographic target, Cranky knew that stuff was missing. That Jessica Lange's character has to narrate the film over the gaps was a sure sign of too much to tell in too little time.

Let's get to those characters. The film's title refers to the farm owned by Larry Cook (Jason Robards). Out of the blue, at a party marking the return of a neighbor's son, Cook steals the thunder of the day by announcing that he is going to split ownership of his farm among the three daughters and their husbands. The youngest daughter Caroline (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is unsure of the plan, having long ago left the farm for the life of a lawyer in the big city, and is immediately disinherited. Elder daughters Rose (Michelle Pfeiffer), a survivor of breast cancer and Ginny (Jessica Lange), stuck in a loveless marriage, get the farm.

Ten or so screen minutes later, daddy and the disinherited Caroline are suing everybody else to get the farm back. Add to that a sexy subplot involving Jess (Colin Firth), the previously mentioned neighbor's son and another one about dad's mental health and all the other things I mentioned a couple of paragraphs back and you should have the makings of a substantial story.

And Cranky could make chicken cordon bleu if he had some chicken and some cordon bleu. A Thousand Acres ain't over at that point. It's just getting started, tossing out tantalizing story ideas and letting 'em all miss the target.

The stories that are started are never brought to a satisfactory conclusion. After Daddy cracks up, he's never seen again. The lawsuit finished, Caroline vanishes. There's no mention of what happens to either of them, other than the report of dad's death in a bit of narration. Jess leaves town, and reason behind that bit of story is dropped into a line of dialog between the sisters.

I've written this before and I'm sure I'll write it many more times: The first thing that gets taught in a script writing class -- Don't Tell It. Show It. A Thousand Acres is so busy tossing around a thousand (sic) subplots that the audience never makes the necessary emotional connection with the characters onscreen. It's a deadly mistake.

And here's something Cranky didn't catch, but all the women I talked to did: Michelle Pfeiffer looked like a farmer's wife, hair all ragged. Jennifer Jason Leigh looked like a farmer's wife, though she's a lawyer. Jessica Lange, farmer's wife, was beautifully coiffed with her hair covering half her face. Ponder why, while I run the boilerplate...

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price for A Thousand Acres, he would have paid . . .

$2.00

The demo target was speculating about surgery, as in face lift, rather than commenting on the performances of the actor. If the audience the film is targeted for is so easily distracted, the sucker is dead in the water.

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