One True Thing

You’ll laugh! You’ll cry! You’ll pay $7 to see Meryl Streep kiss her butt goodbye! There isn’t any living actress on the face of this Earth who can hold a candle to Meryl Streep. She’s truly amazing. She can do anything, and that includes saving the teary-eyed chick flick “One True Thing” from slipping into maudlin.

Streep is so cheerful and honest in her portrayal of super mom and wife Kate Gulden that I wanted her to be my mom. She bakes, she cleans, she tends to everyone else’s needs, and does so with a smile on her face and a disposition that would gag Kathy Lee Gifford.

She’s the perfect mom and wife, so it’s safe to assume before the final reel is over, she’s dead meat. I’m not giving anything away here that fans of the Anna Quindlen novel already know, or that the coming attractions haven’t telegraphed. “One True Thing” is a chick bonding film that isn’t afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve. Ladies, bring your hankies.

Renee Zellweger, so good in “Jerry Maguire,” continues to impress here as the distant daughter who gets caught up in her mother’s life when she learns she has cancer. An ambitious writer working for the New Yorker, Ellen Gulden (Zellweger) is the polar opposite of her mother. She’s unhappy, her love life is a mess, and she can’t seem to reconcile yesterday’s business much less the baggage she carries from her past.

To that degree, Kate and Ellen need each other. It’s up to father and husband George (William Hurt) to bring them together, if only for selfish reasons. A Harvard professor who heads up the Literary Department, George has a lot on his plate, but not much time for his family. His reason for asking Ellen to come back home and take care of Kate stems more from his fear of losing his comfortable lifestyle than the fear of losing his wife.

The Gulden’s aren’t totally dysfunctional, but they do have issues to work out. Son Brian (Tom Everett Scott) is afraid to tell his dad that he’s flunked (God forbid!) his English Literary class. Ellen worries that being out of the loop in New York will cost her job and her boyfriend Jordan (Nicky Katt). She also has to contend with the growing fear that her father is having an affair while his wife wastes away at home.

The only person in the film who is anxious to get on with her life is Kate, and she’s dying. She doesn’t let her illness get in the way of her daily and seasonal routines.

As the film opens, she’s busy preparing for George’s 55th Birthday. It’s a surprise party where all of the guests have to come dressed as their favorite literary character. When we first meet Kate, she’s dressed like Dorothy from “The Wizard of Oz,” complete with yarn pigtails and ruby red slippers. The only thing missing is a twister, but for Kate, there’s another storm brewing.

Kate’s illness brings mother and daughter reluctantly together. Kate doesn’t want the bother, and Ellen is desperately afraid of becoming her mother. It doesn’t take long before the two realize that they’re cut from the same cloth.

I liked the way writer Croner and director Franklin develop this relationship. It doesn’t happen over night, and it involves some deep soul searching. The dialogue is rich and real. Thanks to the talented cast, you easily buy into the characters and their problems.

Streep is radiant as a woman so full of life. She shines in every scene, and her slow deterioration is painful to watch. Zellweger is so honest in her portrayal that it doesn’t look like she’s acting. What a pleasure it is to watch Streep and Zellweger share the screen together.

William Hurt has the hardest role, a noble, caring father who hides his pain well. He’s the mighty oak in this forest, yet his roots are the most unstable. When he finally shows his true emotions, it’s heartbreaking.

There’s a lot to admire in “One True Thing,” from it’s picture perfect view of small town life (comfortably set in 1988) to it’s sentimental take on family life. There isn’t a bad performance in the film, and the writer and director deftly combine home spun humor with heartbreaking pathos.

Karen Croner’s screenplay punches all of the right buttons, and under Carl Franklin’s assured direction, “One True Thing” plays better than it should. It’s a familiar theme that usually makes the rounds on the Lifetime Cable channel. It’s several notches above that.

Still, if it looks like a chick flick, sounds like a chick flick, and smells like a chick flick, then it’s probably not duck. Whether or not this will be a detriment to the film at the box office is unknown. It will not be a detriment come Oscar time.



Meryl Streep, Renee Zellweger, William Hurt, Tom Everett Scott, Lauren Graham, Nicky Katt in a film directed by Carl Franklin. Rated R. 127 Min.


Comments are closed.