Anywhere But Here
A Film Review by
Linda Lopez McAlister
Well, I think it's time to do some rescue work again, on a good film
that has been given short shrift by the other reviewers I've read. When
that happens and the film has two female stars with no leading men and one
of them is over fifty, I get suspicious. Linda's Law Number 2 is that, by
and large, the eyes of male critics glaze over whenever a film is about a
woman over 40, let alone 50, and they're likely not to pay enough attention
to the film in question to see its good points.
This time the film is Anywhere But Here starring Susan Sarandon as
Adele August and Natalie Portman as Ann, her daughter. It is based on a
novel by Mona Simpson and directed by Wayne Wang. Adele and Ann are from a
small town in Wisconsin. Adele raised her daughter as a single mom for a
while after her first husband abandoned them when Ann was just six. Then
she married a solid but boring man so Ann would have a father. But, when
Ann was fifteen, Adele could not stand to be stuck in this small town
anymore; more than that, she didn't want Ann's prospects limited by the
smallness of small town life. So this time it is she who leaves her
husband. She buys a used Mercedes Benz and heads for Beverly Hills where
she thinks life will have more to offer her. Ann, of course, does not want
to go, thinks her mother is ruining her life, says she hates her mother,
threatens repeatedly to run away, and so on in the best alienated teen
Despite Adele's determined cheerfulness and best efforts, life in their
series of "Beverly Hills adjacent" apartments, is not so wonderful. She
gets a job as a speech pathologist at an unruly East LA school that she
hates. She's very short of money and repeatedly "forgets" to pay utilities
bills. Her efforts to find the man of her dreams come to naught.
Nevertheless, Ann, despite her unhappiness, manages to do well in school,
make friends (including an adorable boy named Peter (Corbin Allred).
While Adele may be a bit flighty and irresponsible, she is devoted to
doing what she thinks is best for her daughter. When it comes time for Ann
to "escape" her mother's grasp, the struggle intensifies, and it's not clear
whether she is capable of letting go.
The love/hate relationship between mother and daughter is realistic and
beautifully portrayed by both actresses. We all know what Susan Sarandon
can do with a role like this. Natalie Portman, a young Israel-born actor
who had great success as Anne Frank in the 1996 Broadway revival and in
several subsequent Hollywood films, matches her step for step, and it's
great to see them working together. They make you care about them and hope
that, somehow, they'll find a way not to alienate themselves from one
another in the process of living through the protracted struggle that
Adele's "kidnapping" of Ann has ignited.
Wayne Wang's direction is clear and to the point. He doesn't try
anything very flashy, but the pacing and cinematography are nicely done.
One side benefit of this film is that there are numerous male supporting
characters and they are almost all nicely fleshed out so you get a sense of
what their personalities are like rather than their being just male stick
figures that such a film might employ.
I think that "Women and Film" listeners will like this film immensely.
Mother and daughters might want to see it together. It's PG-13. It sure
beats some of the other stuff that's out there right now, at the very least.
For the WMNF-FM Women's Show this is Linda Lopez McAlister on Women and
Copyright 1999 by Linda L. McAlister