Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Carl Franklin
Stars: Meryl Streep, Renee Zellweger, William Hurt, Tom Everett Scott, Lauren Graham, Nicky Katt, Gerrit Graham, Mary Catherine Wright, Hallee Hirsh, Patrick Breen.
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 emotional journey.
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.