Sunday, October 24, 2004

I read Anna Quindlen's "One true thing" when I was at Columbia. It was one of the two books that I read, novels without far-reaching plots, whose focus is more on relationships than narrative. The second was Stephen McCauley's "The Object of My Affection" which was so so soooo different from the movie that I'd seen before. I'd liked the movie well enough, it had deepened my appreciation for Jennifer Aniston, who I think, (and still think) is an unparalled comic actress. But the book itself, with its exploration of the lifestyle of a gay kindergarten teacher and his (pregnant) room-mate lives beyond these two (albeit endearing) protagonists. Its instead a funny, tender look at relationships and how they can't be slotted, about how the world is alive with infinite possibilities. (God! Whats happened to me? I can't believe I'm writing such sentimental rubbish!)

Reading "The Object of My affection" didn't lessen my liking for the movie, I only saw them as disparate, focussing on two different things. I saw the movie version of "One True thing" yesterday and I was dissapointed. That book above all, is about the relationship between a daughter, Ellen Gullen, and her cancer-struck mother, and what she learns anew about her parents as she moves back in with them to take care of her mom. The daughter has always admired her father and somehow looked down on her mother for her lack of intellectual glamour and her homey attitude to life. Now she learns that her mother is not who she thought she was. The book is, in a way, about the misplaced contempt of feminists for the stay-at-home woman. I liked the novel, it had an understated tone and above all, seemed to be sincerely written.

The movie, directed by Carl Franklin, instead of being about the mother and her daughter, focusses more on the travails of a cancer-struck patients and their relationship between their care-givers. Ellen and Kate rarely talk in the movie and the film never quite captures the change in Ellen's thinking. Still, the most damning thing about it is way the movie treats the father, George, who in the novel, comes off as selfish, slightly narcissistic but still undeniably human. In a middle-brow tasteful production, such as this, the director is ambivalent so most of the movie is devoted to showing how selfish the father is and yet in the end, he's made to rattle off a monologue about how his wife was his "one true thing". This is so cynically absurd and so transparently false that it almost destroys the movie. (If I'm not mistaken, in the book, that particular statement comes from the narrator herself, that her mother was the "one true thing" in the world). The novel ends on a somber note, with an almost impossible-to-bridge chasm that separates the girl from her father. The movie's ending is again a cliche (literally) with Ellen and George talking about daffodils and flowers (instead, as we should note, about Steinbeck and Whitman), while the camera zooms out.

I found Streep's performance (she was nominated for an Oscar for this), rather actorly, full of little tics and mannerisms but still somewhat opaque. William Hurt, not surprisingly, cannot overcome his badly written role. On the other hand, Renee Zellwegger grows into the part slowly but surely. She's a limited actress, and certainly, like Streep, Moore or even Kidman, she can never dissapear completely into her part. I found her unconvincing in the beginning, it seemed like the Dorothy Boyd of Jerry Maguire, had been transplanted into a WASPy New England milieu, and she doesn't seem like a publishing-type New York yuppie at all. But in the end, it's she who holds the movie together and her performance is nuanced, muted and ultimately great.

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