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ANYWHERE BUT HERE(director: Wayne Wang; screenwriters: Alvin Sargent/based on the book by Mona Simpson; cinematographer: Roger Deakins; editor: Nicholas C. Smith; cast: Susan Sarandon (Adele August), Natalie Portman (Ann August), Eileen Ryan (Lillian), Ray Baker (Ted), John Diehl (Jimmy), Shawn Hatosy (Benny), Bonnie Bedelia (Carol), Michael Milhoan (Policeman), Hart Bochner (Dr. Josh Spritzer), Corbin Allred (Peter); Runtime: 113; Fox 2000 Pictures; 1999)

There isn’t one thing about this mother-daughter relationship melodrama that felt honest and not stolen from someplace else.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The title is taken from the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson describing the life of a traveler as ‘Anywhere but here.’ There isn’t one thing about this mother-daughter relationship melodrama that felt honest and not stolen from someplace else. It relies on a contrived minor character to tell both mother and daughter what was obvious to do in order to straighten out their dysfunctional lives, as for some reason they couldn’t figure it out for themselves. If the film looks familiar that is because “TheSlums of Beverly Hills (98)” went over the same ground but was fortunate to be more comical and perceptive due to Alan Arkin and Natasha Lyonne performances, in which they were also fortunate to have a much sharper script to work with. Alvin Sargent’s script was weak and annoyingly claustral. Wayne Wang’s (The Joy Luck Club“) inept direction made a weak script even weaker by his inability to tell the story unfolding without using a voiceover to relate what the action couldn’t convey.

Pushy mother Adele August (Susan Sarandon) forces her 14-year-old daughter Ann (Natalie Portman) to leave a small Midwestern burg to go cross-country with her to Beverly Hills. The daughter resents her schoolteacher twice divorced mother who is both unstable and exotic, and who bullies her to be an actress as a means of escaping a humdrum life. The daughter doesn’t even like the used gold colored Mercedes mother buys to drive to la-la land in and can’t stand the Beach Boys music mom enjoys hearing on the car radio. So it becomes a question of who knows best, as the ladies fight it out between them until the predictable sweet ending comes in this yawner.

Adele’s dream of greener pastures in Beverly Hills soon doesn’t look that good as she lands a job in a slum L.A. school, has her precious car scratched by the unruly kids, and settles into a job she hates in order to financially survive. Meanwhile, her daughter pines for small town Wisconsin and her friends there. During one of many arguments with her free-spirited mom they go for ice cream and while mother is being ticketed she runs away, only to be chased down by friendly traffic cop (Michael Milhoan) who offers her wise counsel. With the cop’s Zen wisdom passed onto the daughter, she will survive living in many different addresses in Beverly Hills until she reaches 17 and then she plans to get away from mom by using her good grades to go to Brown University instead of UCLA.

During their stay in Beverly Hills, Ann goes from feeling awkward in Beverly Hills High to immediately having many high school girlfriends and even a rich high school boy admirer– a T.S. Eliot (Corbin Allred) reader. But the transition of her life into Beverly Hills had no feel of reality, as everything seemed staged and unemotional. When Ann learns her cousin Benny (Shawn Hatosy), who happens to be her best friend, dies in a traffic accident back in Wisconsin she returns for the funeral. It wasn’t made clear why Ann wants to stay there; and for that matter, it was never made clear why the mother wants to leave so badly. The film is one big battle of wills between mother and daughter over their dreams. I guess what the filmmaker is trying to say, is that mom is a bad dreamer and the daughter is the observant one able to recognize mother’s faults when not in growing pains and in need of parenting.

Mother has a series of setbacks like being dumped by her dream boat dentist (Bochner) she met on the beach, and witnessing her daughter mimic her whiny optimistic sayings when trying out for an acting part. But mother learns that her daughter has grown-up and is independent and that she has to stop living her life through her. Adele learns this when the same wise cop who told Ann what to do, is about to ticket her and this time will remind the mother of the right thing to do. This results in the corny ending; it shows that mom’s heart was always in the right place, only she went about it in the wrong way. This was just one of those films where you want to be anywhere but in the theater where this film is showing.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”