The Whole Wide World

"Movie Magazine International" Review

(Air Date: Week Of 12/25/96)

By Andrea Chase

In fiction, plucky heroine meets troubled but brilliant writer, tames his demons and they live happily every after. In real life, though, it's not that simple. An excellent case in point is pulp-fiction writer Robert E. Howard's rocky attempt at romance with Novalyne Price. It's her affecting memoir that forms the basis for the beautiful, delicately-wrought film, "The Whole Wide World."

It's easy to understand Bob's attraction to Novalyne. She's pretty, brainy, and darned if she'll settle for what rural Texas in the 30s offers its womenfolk. Her attraction to him is only slightly harder to figure out. A self-described big ugly lummox, who's also reclusive, and eccentric, Bobby-boy is easily the most interesting thing for a hundred miles in any direction. But the fact that he still lives at home with his neurotically possessive mother, however, almost stops things before they get started. When Novalyne suspects that Mom is performing a full body-block on her son's romance, she walks right into the lioness's den to stake out her territory. With her arrival, Bob is offered a tenuous link to life in the outside world, and he clings to it even as it precipitates a painful inner struggle to cut the apron strings that bind.

Dan Ireland has hit paydirt here with a first-rate cast for his directorial debut. Renee Zewilliger's Novalyne is all crinkly eyes, voracious gumption and a smile that could melt Pluto, planet and lord of the dead. It's a role that could have turned unforgivably mushy with just one false move from a lesser talent. Vincent D'Onofrio's Bob defines the awkwardness and tragedy of a writer truly comfortable only in fantasy worlds of his own making. But the true gem is Anne Wedgeworth as Bob's mother. With a face that speaks volumes, eyes that can freeze and burn at the same time, and only two dozen or so lines of dialoge, she fleshes out a character that is THE textbook case of smother love. Yet, in one of the many wondrously unexpected turns this tale takes, she changes, with her final few words on screen from an object of scorn to one of pathos, even sympathy.

Fans of Robert E. Howard will enjoy meeting the unconventional creator of some of the purest pulp ever produced. Non-fans probably won't storm bookstores in hordes to read up on Conan the Barbarian, but they'll be hard pressed to forget this sad, sweet, tale of his creator.

Copyright 1997 Andrea Chase

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