The Grass Harp

on October 11, 1996 by Pat Kramer
   A delightful and poignant tale that explores the frailties of human nature, showing it's never too late for hardened people to realize the joy of living and love, "The Grass Harp" is directed by Charles Matthau (son of Walter) and boasts an all-star cast that includes supporting appearances by Mary Steenburgen, Roddy McDowall, Charles Durning and Jack Lemmon. Based on a novella by Truman Capote and set in a small southern town in the 1940s, the story begins when a young boy is sent by his father, a new widower, to live with two maiden aunts. The sisters, Verena (Sissy Spacek) and Dolly (Piper Laurie), are as different as night and day. The stern Verena's all-consuming passions are financial gain and social standing; the sweet and simple Dolly loves gathering herbs and roots from a nearby field with Catherine (Nell Carter), her best friend and the sisters' housekeeper. As Collin matures (now played by "Little Odessa's "Edward Furlong"), it is Dolly who influences him more. When household conflict prompts Dolly to make life-changing choices, Collin makes the leap of faith with her.
   "The Grass Harp" (the title alludes to the sound of the wind through the field's flowing grass, which Dolly interprets as our ancestors speaking to us) provides a magnificent vehicle for Laurie, whose meek Dolly is a striking change of pace for the actress. Walter Matthau is delightful as the aging Judge Charlie Cool, who is willing to shun respectability to be with the woman he loves. In a time when few films are based on simple and good values, this noble little film stands out for providing a perspective that's unusually tender and honest. Starring Piper Laurie, Edward Furlong, Sissy Spacek and Walter Matthau. Directed and produced by Charles Matthau. Written by Stirling Silliphant and Kirk Ellis. A Fine Line release. Drama. Rated PG for mild language and thematic elements. Running time: 107 min. Screened at the Toronto fest
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