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 manner.

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 Film.

Copyright 1999 by Linda L. McAlister