Friday, November 30, 2012

Movie Review: The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio

How did I miss it, that one of my favorite books was made into a movie? And not even recently; it was back in 2005! It took a rare visit to the DVD section of the library for me to stumble upon it, and I couldn't wait to watch it!

(Digression:  Have your visits to the library movie shelves become rare? When the kids were younger, I was a frequent customer, but with teenagers in the house--so opinionated!--our crazy schedule, and the ubiquitous nature of movies these days, it's rare that we all sit down to watch a movie together. If we manage that, there are usually new releases that we must see. I rarely watch movies alone; with Papa Rooster gone frequently on business trips, I'm more likely to spend the evening reading to the kids or writing a blog post than watching a movie.

But there it was on the library shelf a week ago! I thought we might have time over Thanksgiving break for a family movie, so I brought home a few hopefuls. But we didn't get to them, and now they were coming due, so Chicklet10 and I snuggled up tonight with my laptop. Other people still had schoolwork to do--their loss!)

And it was better than I hoped--better, maybe, than the book! The story is a biographical account of a Catholic family in Defiance, Ohio, written by one of the daughters. Dad was an alcoholic who drank up all his pay, yet their mother, by "contesting"--entering contests to write jingles, poetry and limericks advertising products in the 1950's and 60's--managed to win a constant stream of prizes that kept the ten children fed and housed, with occasional extras like bicycles and toasters thrown in. (The subtitle of the book is "How My Mother Raised Ten Children on Twenty-Five Words or Less." Best. Subtitle. Ever.)

I can see why the movie was a sleeper, though. Some of the scenes with Dad as a drunk were uncomfortable to watch, though very well done, I thought--not overdone, but still you'd think twice about explaining to younger children. I bet it struggled at the box office because there isn't really a big audience for this kind of heartwarming drama that touches on so many uncomfortable marital and parental issues!

And yet, as a psychological study and example of health in the midst of dysfunction, and choosing joy in the midst of difficulty, this one's a winner. It is remarkable how this woman (played brilliantly by Julianne Moore)--without being a doormat--could continually model cheerfulness in hard times, love and kindness for her difficult husband, and some measure of faith mixed with a good dollop of "God helps those who help themselves." Mom firmly believed in God and regular church attendance, and the timing of the largest prizes certainly was beyond coincidence. She was obstinately happy in her circumstances, choosing laughter instead of tears and smiles instead of anger. Who doesn't need examples like that? I'll be watching this one regularly, I think!

One reason I liked the movie better than the book is that the movie humanized the father, played by Woody Harrellson. The screenplay did a brilliant job of showing the somewhat loveable man underneath the alcoholism, a man you could almost understand that she could remain committed to, something which didn't come across as clearly in the book, I thought. Also, the movie's storyline was more focused. The book had delightful excursions into the world of couponing, contesting and other facts about the era, and it included great detail about specific contests the mother won, all the various jingles she wrote as entries, and all the prizes she won. But the movie was able to weave this flavor throughout, visually and in Mom's narrations, without the longish interruptions to the story's flow. For these reasons, I give the movie the edge over the book. (Has anyone else enjoyed both, who could weigh in?)

Chicklet10 loved the story, and she enjoyed watching the child actors, who kept getting replaced by older children, and then young men and women, as the characters aged and left home. (Also, there was a scene at the end, which showed the actual ten children, now adults in their 60's and older, playing themselves going through their mother's belongings after her death; all grew up to be successful, stable individuals.) I felt that the content was not inappropriate for Chicklet's age, as it did not totally villainize the father, and though it showed the children's fear of him, he did not show violence toward anything but inanimate objects. And his few swear words were actually sort of hard to understand, because he shouted them out the door or in the other room, or the soundtrack had the TV volume louder than him yelling in the other room. (How thoughtful and refreshing, huh?)

Two thumbs up!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I loved the book, too. Will have to see if our library has this movie; you make me want to see it! Love, Pianomum