by Greg Muskewitz
Anywhere but Here is a cliched soaper, mainly for teenage girls and middle aged women (such as Natalie Portman and Susan Sarandon, respectively). It is a movie we have seen many times before, but with the performances of our wonderful two leads, and under the apt direction of Wayne Wang, this is quite the pleasurable experience.Sarandon is a very eccentric single mother as Adel. She’s been trapped her entire life in Bay City, Wisconsin, and now has “kidnapped” her daughter, left her second husband (her first husband left her), and is headed out to Beverly Hills to be a teacher. (She also wants her young, beautiful daughter, Anne — which Portman is — to be an actress, an aspiration not shared by the teenager.) They have a tough love relationship — Anne pretty much (understandably) disagrees with every decision her mom makes, and while that’s expected, and in the dysfunctional setting provided, Anywhere but Here brings on all the usual dramas of love, sex, death, friendship, and the ups and downs of every day life. (Though certainly Prime Time-glammed up.) There is no denying that Susan Sarandon gives a wonderful performance here as the under-appreciated, but over-protective mother, but I knew it was Sarandon the whole time doing a Sarandon-role (which I have no quibbles with at all). And it never left my mind that it was Natalie Portman up there the entire time, too. But Natalie does something special for me. She carries a very mature presence with her and is elegant and eloquent, though still totally natural (and naturally beautiful). Portman brings her special human element to Anywhere but Here and is one of the biggest reasons it works, because otherwise this material is merely a rechauffe. There are a lot of melancholy moments, and that’s expected from the get-go, but I never felt like those moments were designed just to pull my strings for the hell of it. When Portman was feeling sad (which she did a lot), I wanted to care for her. (There was a scene in which she narrates how she took an ad out in a paper, looking for a place to live, and then how she got “79 responses, but never opened one of them” — I somehow have the feeling I would have been among those numbers.) I felt for her because I identified with her, I understood her situation, and it only seems like the right thing to want to help — just as you would with any of your other friends. I liked being in the presence of the film’s actors more than anything, and what I viewed was very well handled by Wang without it seeming contrived, sappy, phony, or worn out. Fresh as a Baker’s Dozen, but just as common.
With Shawn Hatosy, John Carroll Lynch and Thora Birch.[Absolutely to be seen.]
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originally posted: 11/11/99 20:56:55