One True Thing

on September 18, 1998 by Mike Kerrigan
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   It is still almost half a year to the Academy Awards but it's not too early for Renee Zellweger to start shopping for a new frock. This performance is a shoe-in for a nomination, if not the Best Supporting Actress award itself. She more than holds her own in illustrious company and again reminds audiences just what was worth watching in "Jerry Maguire".
   In this drama, based on the novel by Anna Quindlen, Renee plays a driven New York Magazine writer who resents being asked to return home to a quaint upstate college town to care for her ailing mother and distant father, who both believe a woman's place is in the home, even if they acknowledge she has other talents: Dad asks her to write a foreword for his new book of essays, but hands her the manuscript with a couple of shirts that need washing and mending.
   Streep, in another bravura performance as the dying mother, essays a character with an arsenal of homemaking skills that would make Martha Stewart jealous. What puzzles her daughter is that, instead of seeing limitations, she revels in her life, loving holidays and her family with equal conviction. And it turns out she is not as naive as we might at first think.
   Carl Franklin ("Devil in a Blue Dress") directs with welcome simplicity, letting the characters do the talking instead of fancy camera shots. With acting of this caliber, it's a wise move. The only gimmick is Franklin's choice of a scene, spliced at intervals through the whole movie, in which the daughter's character is questioned by a D.A. as to who might have helped her mother to take that final step. Early on the law enforcement officer says prosecution is unlikely, so there is no real jeopardy, hence no valuable dramatic point.
   But that doesn't hinder the story much and it gives Renee one more opportunity to look great in black. Come to think of it, that would be a very appropriate color choice for a dress to wear for that big bash next March 21.    Starring Meryl Streep, Renee Zellweger, William Hurt and Tom Everett Scott. Directed by Carl Franklin. Written by Karen Connor. Produced by Harry J. Ufland and Jesse Beaton. A Universal release. Drama. Rated R for language. Running time: 127 min.
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