Set in the mid to late 80's, a film like 'One True Thing' attempts to
tell the story of Kate Gulden (Meryl Streep) who has dedicated her life
to being a homemaker and in the process of taking care of her family,
finds that she becomes an unintentional burden to them when for once,
she needs taking care of after she develops a slow and torturing form of
cancer. Did I mention that this story line is only a sub plot? What
the film is really about is a re-examination of priorities from the
stand point of the woman's daughter Ellen (Renee Zellweger) and how her
career driven life as a Harvard educated writer comes to a sudden halt
when she seems to be the only one in a position to give her mother the
care she needs while she dies slowly at home after being bed ridden and
confined to a wheel chair for too long.
Meryl Streep receives first billing in this movie and received an Oscar
nomination for it as Best Actress but her role is clearly a supporting
one. Zellweger is the film's protagonist --- a hard and judgmental
woman who can't cook, clean or do anything in that capacity as well as
her mother. She carries a secret resentment from not having anything in
common with mom and somehow feels that she is totally blameless. Her
father (William Hurt) is a fellow writer who runs a department at a post
secondary educational institute and while she has plenty in common with
him from a writer's stand point, she can't quite embrace her father's
generation and grows further and furthr away from him when she finds he
has been having affairs while his wife is dying.
What makes this film work is that although the story is told in
flashback from the the daughter's point of view, we don't really know
until the end of the film, who it is she's talking to about the film's
situations. Combining that with top notch performances and an easy
flowing sense of style, 'One True Thing' does pay off and is especially
important to film audiences that can identify with its subject matter.
It does have a distant and rather cold feeling about it that keeps it
from being a true motion picture classic but you have to admire it for
wanting to escape the trappings of a weepy and pretentious tear jerker,
and become just another inflatable film full of false emotion.
The film transcends any thought of making either the career woman or the
homemaker the heroine and treats them both as equals. Quite a
remarkable thing in the age where most woman are in the work place and
rightfully so because in many cases it's out of necessity, and where the
homemaker is often viewed by many as wasting her life. But 'One True
Thing' shows us that as long as one feels their existence is important
and they perform a valuable service that nothing ever goes to waste.
The balancing act this movie performs once again fails in the category
of under written characters. William Hurt's portrayal of the father and
Tom Everett Scott, who plays the family son and Zellweger's brother, are
both not used to their full potential and are rather forgettable
characters. The film is also too lengthy for many attention spans but
if you can stick it out for two plus hours, it is a film that not only
tells the story of a family but in many ways it looks around for exactly
what the definition of a family really is.
Copyright © 2000 Walter Frith