(Air Date: Week Of 3/29/95)
The best things about "Dolores Claiborne" are the richly textured performances of three remarkable actresses: Kathy Bates, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Judy Parfitt. That said, the move itself is as close as you can get to the old-time melodramas dusted off during the silent era and even earlier, by touring stock companies of the 19th century.
Here's the set-up: Dolores Clairborne (Bates) is suspected of committing two murders within her lifetime, first her abusive alcoholic husband (David Straitharn) and, many years later, her invalid employer. (Parfitt) Her chain-smoking, hard-drinking, pill-popping daughter Selena (Leigh) is convinced that Mother killed Father. So is detective Christopher Plummer, in the sort of role he's done so often, he could sleepwalk through it. Ditto Dolores' Maine neighbors, who write nasty things on her front door and yell at her from passing cars. No surprises so far.
The mother-daughter relationship plays out like the old Bette-Davis-Gena Rowlands telefeature, "Strangers", which was also written and directed by guys: scads of wonderful close-ups substitute for any universal truths or insights about women. But when guys shuffle, cut and stack the deck, there's sure to be masochism, incest, sleeping with the sleazy boss, stoical but resentful masochism within a rotten marriage &/or life-shattering incest. Here, you get all three. For a woman to beat a man, Taylor Hackford's movie says, she has to lie to him and outlive him, BUT she'll pay for her joyless victory with self-reproach and solitude. Bates and Leigh pay and pay and pay for 131 minutes, and it's all Dad's fault.
Well, as Miss Jean Brodie might say, for those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing they like. But you can be awe-struck by the range and subtlety of the powerhouse cast and still fidget, as I did, through "Dolores Claiborne". Incidentally, there's only a ten-year age difference between Bates and Leigh. "Avengers" fans may remember Judy Parfitt as the lovely, evil Vesta who wrangled with John Steed in 1967's classic "Escape In Time" episode. Now, still in her 50's, she's making her U.S. feature film debut as an antique perfectionist who wets the bed, groan. Screenwriter Tony Gilroy's skewed formula for feminism is strictly for fools, so swallow at your own risk.
Copyright 1995 Monica Sullivan
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