Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. USA, 1997. Touchstone Pictures, Propaganda Films, Via Rosa Productions, Prairie Films, Beacon Pictures. Screenplay by Laura Jones, based on the novel by Jane Smiley. Cinematography by Tak Fujimoto. Produced by Marc Abraham, Lynn Arost, Steve Golin, Kate Guinzburg, Sigurjon Sighvatsson. Music by Richard Hartley. Production Design by Dan Davis. Costume Design by Ruth Myers. Film Editing by Maryann Brandon. Golden Globe Awards 1997.
Jane Smiley’s brilliant Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is brought to the screen with less success than expected. The story, modelled on Shakespeare’s King Lear, concerns three sisters (Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Lange, Jennifer Jason Leigh) who have grown up on a vast Iowa farm and now find their family tearing apart when their father (Jason Robards) offers to make the farm a corporation between the three of them. Leigh hesitates, Pfeiffer is all for it, and Lange just goes along with whatever makes everyone else happy, something she’s been doing her whole life. For all you can say about Jocelyn Moorhouse’s somewhat melodramatic direction, watching Lange’s journey through the film, revealing truths about herself and her father’s evil past, is never less than totally fascinating and riveting (she gives her best performance in years). Pfeiffer is almost as good but seems somewhat distracted, and Leigh just can’t seem to be noticeable on screen when she’s playing normal people, but what really kills this one is the lack of insight to any of the characters; Smiley did a beautiful job on the page of making everyone flawed, while the film is a collection of nobly suffering women and hopelessly unreliable men.