Movie Review By Casey McCabe
From time immemorial, or at least since Jed Clampett, Beverly Hills has had a mythical cachet: the place where people who've arrived choose to live, and where people still chasing the dream arrive daily.
The new film "Anywhere But Here," directed by Wayne Wang and based on the book by Mona Simpson, opens with Adele August making the fateful break from Bay City, Wisconsin with the unshakable faith of the starry-eyed dreamer. Except that Adele, played by Susan Sarandon, is no spring chicken. She's not even an aspiring actress. She's a twice-divorced schoolteacher with sex appeal and a 14 year old daughter, played by Natalie Portman, who is budding into someone both dark and beautiful. Bay City being more constricting than her red stretch pants, Adele is quite possibly using her daughter to finally make her own break from her all-too-complacent family. In any case, she plans to rescue the both of them, without a job, without savings, in a city where they know not a soul. They can only count on each other and the magic properties of Beverly Hills.
Director Wang and screenwriter Alvin Sargent are gifted at this sort of thing: small stories, real people, prosaic dreams and bittersweet humor. The archetypes here are offbeat but familiar: the sexy but willfully nutty mother who hides behind her self-created chaos; the wiser, more emotionally mature young daughter assuming the caretaker role. We also know well ahead of time that Beverly Hills holds better odds for failure than redemption. What you might not expect, and may not like about "Anywhere But Here" is that the struggle does not pay off. At least not explicitly, nor in proportion to the investment. The story unrolls like a ball of yarn, in a slow straight line. It is exceedingly honest in its rhythm of life and depiction of those simple humiliations we can never quite shake. As a result the film is at heart....sad. Even with its obligatory glimmer of hope at the end I can't call it uplifting. Perhaps this is just the way a film about a mother and daughter letting each other go must be. But the rest of the premise is very close to the recent "Slums of Beverly Hills" which was equally poignant and honest, and just a little fresher, funnier and more forgiving.
Still, it must be said that the pairing of Sarandon and Portman is an absolute knockout. The mother and daughter chemistry here is near flawless. That's enough to recommend "Anywhere But Here." But anyone who has trouble watching dreams get slowly — and I do mean slowly — crushed, consider yourself warned.
© 1999 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 11/24/99
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