One True Thing

Sep 23, 1998 at 12:00 am

Director Carl Franklin's One True Thing invites its audience inside places of the heart where the story of the Gulden family unfolds with the intensity of a great poetic event.

Learning that his wife has cancer, university professor George Gulden (William Hurt) asks his daughter, Ellen (Renee Zellweger), to quit her job as a New York reporter and move home to take care of her mother.

At 55, experiencing "an inflammation of the sentence and a hardening of the paragraph," the professor struggles with collections of critical essays, petty academic egos and his never-to-be-published novel, The Comeback Inn. Very close to her father, Ellen shares nothing with her mother, Kate (Meryl Streep), whose life is spent between the kitchen and the community.

As Ellen and her brother, Brian (Tom Everett Scott), watch Kate dancing to a nostalgic Bette Midler tune, presiding over small but ruthless cookie committees or putting on a Dorothy costume for a "come as your favorite literary character" party, they discover a magical world of forgotten warmth and unconditional love. "Women in the movies," comments Meryl Streep, "to be interesting enough to be photographed today, must be neurotic or on the verge of something." Kate is different. "The vanished kind of homemaker," she is a woman of tremendous compassion and tenderness. "The first time I saw your mother," George tells Ellen, "she was so filled with light."

Inside this sad but loving Land of Oz, the camera approaches the characters with extraordinary kindness, as Franklin (Devil in a Blue Dress) prepares the Guldens for the greatest humbling of their lives. Soft light, unintrusive angles and rich colors with the texture of oil paint give One True Thing the look of a harmonious canvas.

Without preaching about family values, with elegance and tact, Franklin's film speaks to all of us. In quiet, affectionate tones, it reminds us that life goes on while we're making other plans, and that we still have time for soothing, if not absolute, reconciliations. Don't be afraid. Remember those who love you. Call home.

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