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Saturday, June 10, 2000

'ANYWHERE BUT HERE'

Making one mother of a role model


The problem is this: The minute you become someone's mom, you start acting like one. You surrender all your craziness and most of your sheen. You send in your collection of halter tops to the Salvation Army, knowing that some bargain-seeker is going to pick up your favorite pink top emblazoned with the words "Baby Kisses" and say: "Give me a break!" One day, you wake up to find yourself as a sensible, responsible, harried human being who knows the pros and cons of every kid's car seat available on the market and the thought sinks in: You're a mother.

For a long time I thought that if only moms held on to their halter tops and danced to Soul Asylum, the Big Change wouldn't happen and that would be great for all parties concerned. But two hours of "Anywhere But Here" has given second thoughts. According to this movie, it doesn't help the slightest bit to be the hip, cool and crazy mom -- your daughter is still going to shed tears of hate and rage.

"Anywhere But Here" is based on the Mona Simpson novel and traces three years in the lives of Adele (Susan Sarandon) and her daughter, Ann (Nathalie Portman). Ann is a smart, no-nonsense 14-year-old driven to frenzied irritation at almost everything Mom does -- and she does a lot. Not content to waste away in a Wisconsin backwater town, Adele decides to dump her second husband, aging mother and other ties for a more glamorous life in Beverly Hills. For this, she invests her savings in a gold 1978 Mercedes ("Just my color!"), crams her many gaudy outfits in the back and orders Ann to get in.

The thought of leaving her familiar childhood home and friends is traumatic for Ann but Adele has big plans -- she will turn Ann into a Hollywood actress which will enable them both to live in flashy splendor for the rest of their lives.

OK, so Adele is an immature flake. But she's also charming and romantic and frankly cute. The way I see it, frankly cute mothers deserve some credit, because motherhood tends to destroy the cuteness and replace it with something else that I don't want to name. When things go wrong, Adele rises to the situation by taking Ann to a French restaurant on Sunset Boulevard. When there's no money at all, she takes Ann out for ice cream. She dresses in these fabulous ensembles that undoubtedly came out of a home-shopping catalog called "Fabulous Ensembles." Ann may hate these things now but when Adele dies, they will come back and make her bawl, I know it.

For the moment, Ann doesn't see it like that. She bleats mournfully about a "normal life," or otherwise gets back at her mom with silent (and cruel) observations made with her cool, keen intelligence. Oblivious to how her daughter really feels, Adele forges on, fueled by her dreams and unshakeable optimism.

Director Wayne Wang's special domain has been the mother-daughter conflict since "The Joy Luck Club" some years back. This time, Wang extends his insights to the city of L.A., which could almost be considered the third central character in the movie.

Wang's L.A. is the city of Adele's dreams, where after three years, mom and daughter still feel like tourists. Accordingly, they never complain about the traffic (the number of cars is treated as something exotic), crime, high rent and other banes of life in the City of Angels. Even the smog is like some unearthly perfume. The clogged streets and browning palm trees give Adele the energy to live through her many disappointments; for Ann the same scenery is a launch pad for her eventual escape.

But it's the joint performance of Sarandon and Portman that charges the picture with a poignancy so sweet, by the last reel you're ready to adopt them both as your own mom or daughter. Sarandon especially repeats the buoyant magic she had going in "Thelma and Louise" but with naughtier clothes. You'll love the sight of her in baby-pink leggings. Clearly, she was made to drive fancy cars and blow kisses, the tails of her red scarf flapping in the wind. And she makes it look so classy which is, let's face it, not a bad example of motherhood.

"Anywhere But Here" opens June 24 at Chanter Cine Theater in Hibiya.


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