Stepmom

on December 25, 1998 by Michelle Santilli
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   Isabel (Julia Roberts) is a young woman attempting to juggle a relationship with her boyfriend Luke (Ed Harris), her new role as a mother figure to his two young children, and her career as a photographer. But the most challenging of all these feats is trying to maintain peace with Jackie (Susan Sarandon), Luke's ex-wife. Compared to Jackie, Isabel is a complete mess: She can't cook; she can't remember to wash the kids' favorite clothes; she can't even manage to pick the children up from school on time. In short, she is a disaster as a mother. She continually tries to make things work with Jackie and the children, with little success. That is, until she learns that Jackie is dying of cancer. This devastating disease causes the family to come together and look less at their differences.
   Chris Columbus, best known for such popular comedies as "Home Alone" and "Mrs. Doubtfire," never finds an appropriate tone for this picture. Unlike the recent "One True Thing," which tackled similar subject matter harshly and unapologetically, Columbus' awkward direction randomly maneuvers the audience's emotions from grieving to giddy. In one moment the family learns of Jackie's life-threatening illness; in the next they are flitting about the room, dancing and singing, playfully using curling irons as microphones. The producers seem to be very aware of how best to play the audience's heartstrings, plucking a carefully composed song. But this plan of attack is obvious and patronizing.
   Nevertheless, the actors give respectable performances; in particular, Sarandon crafts her part with moments of deft subtlety which remind us of what a remarkable actor she is. Starring Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon and Ed Harris. Written by Gigi Levangie and Jessie Nelson & Steven Rogers and Karen Leigh Hopkins and Ronald Bass. Directed by Chris Columbus. Produced by Wendy Finerman, Chris Columbus, Mark Radcliffe and Michael Barnathan. A TriStar release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for language and thematic elements. Running time: 124 min
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