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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Stars Shine as Mother and Daughter
by Betty Jo Tucker

What a terrific idea! Cast Oscar-winner Susan Sarandon (Dead Man Walking) and rising star Natalie Portman (The Phantom Menace) in a film together. Make it a comedy-drama about an outrageous mother and her more practical daughter. Recruit Wayne Wang, director of The Joy Luck Club, to helm the project. Put all this together and what do you have? An exceptional movie titled Anywhere But Here. 

Wang has a passion for and skill in telling stories about women and families. "My wife says I was probably a woman in a past life," the filmmaker recalls with a laugh. "She says that I have a certain sensibility for and understanding of women. Also, the Chinese believe that we have both yin and yang sides; perhaps I’m more in touch with my yin side, which is the feminine side"

Wang’s sensibilities make him the perfect one to transfer Mona Simpson’s novel about a volatile mother-daughter relationship to the big screen. Screenwriter Alvin Sargent’s strong insights into the American family also contribute to the movie’s humanistic tone. (Remember his great script for Ordinary People?)

While Anywhere But Here tells a simple story, it deals with important concepts like dependence, independence, love, and hate. Ann August (Portman) doesn’t want to move from her small hometown to a big city. But her mother, Adele (Sarandon) thinks her dreams of a better life for both of them will never come true if they stay in Bay City, Wisconsin. As the two adjust to a new life in Los Angeles, their relationship changes and evolves.

Because the success of this film depends on its two stars, would it be as entertaining without Sarandon and Portman? Probably not. Like the Mona Lisa, Sarandon gets more valuable as she ages. She brings her own brand of excitement to any role. Besides being a consummate dramatic actress, she shows a wonderful flair for comedy here. Explaining the eccentric character she plays, Sarandon points out, "I think what’s interesting about Adele is that she’s doing all the wrong things for all the right reasons. She loves her daughter, but is misguided and self-serving."

Although Ann loves her mother deeply, she can’t stand Adele most of the time. "Even when she’s ruining my life, there’s something about my mother," the young girl confesses as she goes off to college. "There’s romance and a sense of power. When she dies the world will be dull and flat."

Portman’s innate grace and intelligence shine through in her portrayal of the daughter. Sarandon insists the casting of Portman was critical to understanding the mother-daughter relationship. She’s absolutely correct in believing when viewers see the smart and healthy Portman, they have to say, "Well for all the mom’s silliness and mistakes, she must be doing something right because Ann is a great kid."

Viewers who enjoy good human interest stories should not miss this film. But, those in the mood for action scenes, violence, car chases, and special effects will have to look anywhere but here.

(Released by Fox 2000 Pictures and rated "PG-13" for sex-related material.)

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