Movie Magazine International

A Map of the World

USA - 1999

Movie Review By Casey McCabe

I gotta be honest with you. This time of year can suck a movie reviewer dry. It's the prestige film season, where directors and actors try to outdo each other with brutal honesty, visions of gold statuettes no doubt dancing in their heads. It's always a dysfunction-palooza and this year has been no exception. I've already been forced me to deal with the affects of poverty, alcoholism, incest, and cancer. I've seen dreams get slowly crushed. I've learned that life is difficult. And I've left the theater with a new resolve to see "Galaxy Quest" again.

Calluses had already formed by the time I hit "A Map of the World" which involves the death of a child, and "Titus" which involves the death of many children. My arms were folded. I was daring them to get under my skin. And that they did. These two very different films are among the best of the recent lot, and each contains one of the better performances of this century.

In "A Map of the World," Sigourney Weaver plays Alice Goodwin, a woman trying to make the best of her husband's mid-life decision to be a farmer. Her husband, played by David Straithairn, is maddeningly rock solid. Her best friend, played by the ubiquitous Julianne Moore, is that rarest of things; a wholly likable anal retentive. Alice has one darling daughter and one devil child who hates her. Life's a bit more difficult for Alice, but pity her at your peril, she's very strong woman. And also very ordinary in the grand scheme of things. Yet pity is the only feeling that comes to mind when early in the film, in one of those horrible moments that could happen to anyone, her best friend's daughter accidentally drowns on Alice's watch. Everyone, including us, barely has time to absorb this before Alice is blindsided with a horrific charge that makes her even more of a town pariah, lands her in jail, and changes her life forever.

This is the point where "A Map of the World" could easily drop off the Earth. But Weaver, director Scott Elliot, and screenwriters Peter Hedges and Polly Platt refuse to let it happen. The film is a marvel of short, incredibly efficient scenes. It asks questions and doesn't pretend to have answers. It avoids the easy route at virtually every juncture, but never simply to make things more difficult. Even the humor and there's quite a bit of it is never dark. It just spills out of the moment. For all the pain in this painfully honest film we don't resent the journey. And when I find a better female performance than Sigourney Weaver's, I'll let you know.

© 2000 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 01/26/99

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