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IN SHORT: Two star chick flick.
So-called chick flicks don't translate easily to Cranky's scale, 'cuz I'm a guy and really could care less. But when female audience members walk out of a free preview telling their male dates "I wish we'd rented it" it isn't a good sign. [For the record, if I had to put markers on it: Three stars means most of the ladies are sniffling and/or crying. Four would be aisle to aisle sobbing. Five would mean yours truly was sucked in; searching for a tissue, too. This one didn't reap even a heavy run of sniffling.]
One True Thing, a story of a family in which communication is a foreign word is aimed so pointedly at the Heartland that it's filled with New York jokes; nothing nasty, all the kind of things that us New Yorkers would laugh at. We're cold. We're distant. We regard small town living as the equivalent of being stranded on another planet. We can't cook (though that gag yields one of the funniest sequences in the flick, though you've probably seen similar bits time and time again).
Ellen (Rene Zellweger) is the cold, New York based writer daughter of a collegiate professor of English Lit (William Hurt). Her career is good, though she's only gotten the kind of encouragement she wants from her mom, Kate (Meryl Streep) whose character reminds me so much of that chubby little TV actress who is nothing but cheery and perky that you wish she would just die . . . which, of course, you know right from the start as the flick is told in flashback as the small town police investigate unspecified questions regarding the death of mom, who developed an unspecified cancer.
Dad's insistence that Ellen abandon the rat race to take care of her mother in the small town called Langhorne; Ellen's inability to successfully argue the matter with her dad (indeed he would sooner walk away than argue anything with her) sets up an escalating miscommunication between the two, when Ellen overhears gossip that Dad is, and has always been, cheating on mom. There's nothing but implied evidence for the affair but that's sufficient to wreak havoc on their relationship. Dad, on the other hand, dances cheek to cheek with his wife, brings a restaurant home when the wife is too ill to make their regular reservation; all the romantic stuff you could want to see, that Ellen's inability to communicate her anger is amplified.
I'm leaving some important stuff out on purpose. By the time you reach the end you'll be able to argue that mom suffers from as many miscommunication problems as her daughter. Or you can argue that dad should burn in hell. Either way, if you're looking for satisfying emotional relief as all the problems tie themselves neatly up, you won't get it. There are additional, poorly underdeveloped stories about the younger brother (Tom Everett Scott) who is flunking out of school but won't tell dad either, and the boyfriend (Nicky Katt) who is cheating on Ellen, who won't confront him on it either.
One one level, One True Thing is a welcome distraction to real life unpleasantries like the Ken Starr Report. It's filled with the kind of small town values that Republicans love to profess, all of which cover up implied infidelity, relationship lies and good stuff like that. Despite the fact that Streep's character is admittedly dead from the start, and let's be honest folks, you team Meryl Streep with a character croaking of cancer, you've got the potential for major wetworks --- there's no tension or drama in the tale as the police investigation works its way to the end of the flick. I won't go into details, 'cuz I don't believe in giving it away. The dialog is filled with enough personal familiarities that there are plenty of funny moments, even as Streep's character wastes away.
Men walking out were trying to be kind to their dates, most agreeing "it must have been a good book." This flick is not aimed at us, though the combo of A-list actors and scripted humor make it relatively painless to sit through, though unaffecting.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to One True Thing, he would have paid . . .
Knowing this wasn't aimed at my I rely on my female friends, who all went to have a good cry. They got a bunch of sniffles but not much more. To Cranky, that means chick flick failure.
[New Yorkers get last laughs, though, as Ellen changes gigs, from a petty writer at New York magazine to a feature writer at the Village Voice which may have been fine in 1988, where the movie is set, but not now as the Village Voice is a freebie giveaway rag, barely above the equivalent of your local Pennysaver, if you live in a town big enough for that.]
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