One True Thing

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One True Thing is a small gem - no murders, no car chases, one painfully-felt death (like that of those we love), splendid writing and intelligent acting. Both Rene Zelleweger and Meryl Streep give nuanced, matched performances. The direction, by action helmer Franklin, is quiet. He makes extraordinarily good use of natural-looking lighting. The only misstep was the unncessary wrapper story, when daughter Ellen is being questioned about her cancer-raveged mother's death.

The plot is pretty basic - a young woman is forced home by her father when her mother is diagnosed with cancer. But the more responsible Ellen becomes for her increasingly ailing-mother, the more she collides with her distant father, another constricted performance by William Hurt.

In real life, I've known hundreds of Kates - the women who give all to their families and ask for little in return. I've also known hundreds of Ellens - the career women who don't want to grow up to be "Mom." Not to mention hundreds of Georges - the men who flee the emotional hardship a family can provoke (abandon them before they abandon you). But this family isn't an archetype - they are so well written and acted it's as if you know them all from the way the pictures are hung and the stencils on the wall were created.

Movies frequently get the details wrong. Being a Northerner, I'm sensitive to the way Hollywood ignores this relevent component of settings. Being a woman, I'm sick of movies that either ignore us completely or are hopelessly over-romantic (like Titanic). I only caught one very slight anacronism in its 1987-1988 setting (those ubiquitous Cat in the Hat hats weren't mass-marketed until about 1993 or so). And the set design of the house is just perfect - it looks very lived in.

If you want something with the same emotional realism of Saving Private Ryan without the decibel-level, go see One True Thing.