In those days, it was reward enough for mothers to send their families out to meet the world, prepared.


A Illusion review by Joan Ellis.

A movie built around the universal fear of death by cancer is not an easy choice, but "One True Thing" raises a host of family issues that reach way beyond the central sadness of the story. Beautifully acted by a cast not looking for an easy pull of the heartstrings, this family finally faces the tensions that have been kept skillfully in check by a mother who refused to let them surface.

The Guldens gather for a surprise birthday party given by Kate (Meryl Streep) for her husband George (William Hurt). George is a respected academic-professor of literature, National Book Award winner, narcissist-who lives in a relaxed state of readiness to impart his wisdom to the less accomplished. He also loves his wife deeply.

With great pleasure, Kate fills her man's need for an executive housekeeper. Beyond that, she has embraced the life of their college town. She is a member in high standing of a group of volunteer women who serve community and family. Kate, an enthusiastic expert in the details of service, sees beauty all around her. She yearns for nothing that isn't hers already.

It is this pleasant domesticity that so rankles her daughter Ellen (Renee Zellweger). Ellen has distanced herself from her mother's selflessness by becoming a reporter for New York Magazine and is now at work on a major investigative piece that could make her career.

When her mother is diagnosed with terminal cancer, George summons the reluctant Ellen to be her caregiver. Faced with Kate's perennial cheerfulness and the amiable clutter of her upholstering and refinishing, Ellen bristles, "The one thing I never wanted to do was live my mother's life, and I was doing it." In forced return, Ellen begins to understand the wider family chemistry.

It's not that Meryl Streep dies gracefully, which of course she would; it's that she conveys the measure of Kate's lifework. She makes us understand that Kate has loved every Halloween, every Christmas that allowed her to create holiday illusion. Kate exists to make life good for others. Watch for Streep's artistry in a short scene about the Christmas snowman sweater.

William Hurt is marvelous as the self-satisfied professor who tends his own towering ego. When Ellen asks, "Do you have any idea of what it takes to keep your life running?" he responds with perfect blank-faced ignorance. In a small part, wonderfully played, Tom Everett Scott makes Ellen's brother, Brian, fine proof of this family pudding. Renee Zellweger is superb. The cast is so adept, so genuine, that we are free to let the movie wash into our own lives, and that is its power.

"How do you do this every day in this house, and nobody notices?" Ellen asks her mother. "This is my family, Ellie." In those days, it was reward enough for mothers to send their families out to meet the world, prepared. They didn't think to ask for applause.

Film Critic : JOAN ELLIS
Word Count : 496
Studio : Universal
Rating : R
Running time : 2h6m

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