The Prize Winner Of Defiance, Ohio

on September 30, 2005 by Bridget Byrne
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Like an old-fashioned sampler, brightly and neatly stitched to create a tender admonition to look on the bright side of life, "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio" is charming, though sometimes a touch too quaint. It's based on a book written by Terry Ryan, one of the 10 children of the buoyant Evelyn Ryan, a woman with a lively mind and firm determination who, against all odds, managed to keep her family going through the '50s and '60s by whipping up promotional jingles and winning cash and prizes of various degrees of worth and usefulness.

Jane Anderson's film adaptation of this touching story is like a family album found in an attic, its collage of surprising moments and ordinary events dusted off so that the joy sparkles and the sorrow stings. Like a thumbed-through flipbook, it merges humor and pain in fascinating overlap.

Julianne Moore as the forceful yet never strident Evelyn, beautiful in her graceful acceptance of the duty of love -- even though she itches within the confines of both her personal circumstances and the restrictive mores of the era -- is, not unexpectedly, easy to watch and sympathize with. In a much more difficult role, Woody Harrelson as Kelly, her despairing drunken husband, gives a heartbreaking performance, which doesn't shy away from the ugliness of his abusive alcoholism, yet allows insight into what a better man he might have been. Ellary Porterfield, who plays Terry Ryan through her teenage years, projects an innate intelligence which convinces that she could be the person who grew up to write with such insight about how much it mattered that her mother reached out beyond the limitations of fate to find the best in herself and her family. Starring Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern and Ellary Porterfield. Directed and written by Jane Anderson. Produced by Jack Rapke, Steve Starkey and Robert Zemeckis. A DreamWorks release. Comedy/Drama. Rated PG-13 for thematic elements, some disturbing images and language. Running time: 99 min

Tags: Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern, Ellary Porterfield. Directed and written by Jane Anderson. Produced by Jack Rapke, Steve Starkey and Robert Zemeckis. A DreamWorks release. Comedy/Drama
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