Anywhere But Here
Rating -

Susan Sarandon: Adele August
Natalie Portman: Ann August
Eileen Ryan: Lillian
Corbin Allred: Peter
Ray Baker: Ted
John Diehl: Jimmy
Shawn Hatosy: Benny
Bonnie Bedelia: Carol

Produced by Petra Alexandria, Laurence Mark, Ginny Nugent; Directed by Wayne Wang; Screenwritten by Alvin Sargent; based on the novel by Mona Simpson

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Written by DAVID KEYES

In the movie "Slums Of Beverly Hills," a family of craven humans dodged paying rent by transferring homes virtually each day, always staying in the vicinity of Beverly Hills so that their daughter could take advantage of the great school system there. Because of its incessant shifting, the direction of the premise hiked in circles, offering situations and gags that, aside from being unfunny, were plainly predictable and supervised. The movie was far from ordinary--it was a ghastly effort containing hordes of wasted ambition and talent. Most comedies fail because they are dead and lackluster. This one failed for exactly the opposite.

This is, to a certain extent, the problem with "Anywhere But Here." Instead of being a meandering sitcom-style comedy with absolutely no laughs, however, the dramatic vehicle that stars Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman as a mother and daughter on the road to love and understanding is a sappy soap opera-style drama with absolutely no necessity to develop believability. And much like "Slums Of Beverly Hills," it repeats ideas, and is poorly maintained by the writing department. The casting of two of Hollywood's biggest actresses only cheapens the blueprint; the plot wastes their talent in implausible twists, endless subplots, uninteresting extras, obvious outcomes and sentimental wish wash. Some enthusiastic dialogue cannot begin to save them from a story portrayed with little dignity and guidance.

Seizing little understanding for the majority of a male audience, the plot deals with the coming-of-age relationship between mother and daughter Adele and Ann August (Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman). After a sudden departure from their home town in Bay City, Wisconsin, the two reset their lives in sunny California (L.A., to be precise). Ann is a teenage, headstrong girl with a certain uneasy feeling towards her mother, and with good reason; Adele aspires to raise her daughter to be a famous actress, and dreams of being rich and living an upper-class life. Unfortunately, being the daughter of a mother stuck in neutral when it comes to acting her age, Ann is sort of forced to encourage her parent's dreams. As the daughter, Portman, who also appeared as Queen Amidala in "Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace," is strong-willed and delectable on screen. But because Adele is too busy trying to regain her lost youth, so to speak, little attention is paid to the Portman character Ann, who is more of an adult than her own mother.

The film clocks in at precisely 114 minutes--a lengthy amount of time, even for a melodrama. Any kind of film that stretches past the 100-minute should have something decent to say to the audience, but one cannot help but notice the decayed and shallow treatment that director Wayne Wang gives "Anywhere But Here." Performances are the high point (both Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman, to their credit, are not always overwhelmed by the idiocy of the plot), but seldom do we buy into the various dilemmas; when characters are moaning and groaning about how one cannot live without the other, we are so distanced that we grow frustrated with the sentiment.

There is even a situation here so obviously contrived that it makes us squirm--both mother and daughter, after screaming and disagreeing with each other for a good duration of the movie (this is sort of like a "deja vu" for those who have recently seen "The Story Of Us"), are suddenly forced to cope with family loss when Adele's mother enters mortality and Ann's cousin is killed in a car wreck. Will the deaths force them to set aside their personal differences? Will they embrace what they have? Better yet, are any of these questions worth asking?

1999, David Keyes, Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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