Monday, October 13, 2008

Monday Movie Review: The Whole Wide World

The Whole Wide World (1996) 8/10
Novalyne Price (Renée Zellweger) meets pulp fiction author Robert E. Howard (Vincent D'Onofrio). Although most of his neighbors in 1930s Texas think Bob Howard is crazy, Novalyne finds him fascinating and a romance gradually develops.

The Whole Wide World is based upon the memoirs of Novalyn Price, and it functions strictly through her point of view. We see Howard only when she sees him, and we know him only as she knows him. The tight focus of the movie is interesting and unusual; we normally see more of characters "real" life, but in this movie, most of the action is Bob and Novalyne talking; on drives, in parlors, on a picnic. Talking. Discovering they love each other and discovering, too, that they are not all that compatible. Great friends with real chemistry, they have very different ideas of what life should contain.

D'Onofrio inhabits Howard with his characteristic weirdness, but also with a burning enthusiasm that bursts forth in shouts and broad gestures, before calming back into something like civility. Zellweger is almost a cliché, a fussy schoolteacher with a Sunday School attitude, but she's also fiery and fierce. A cliché would not have the strength to stand up to someone she so admires. By the time Novalyne meets Bob in 1933, he is already famous, widely-regarded as the greatest pulp writer alive. An unsuccessful writer of "true romance" stories, she wants to meet him to pick his brain probably more than she wants a romance.

Although a friend whose taste I admire adores this film, I liked it very much without being blown away. The stiff propriety of romance with a schoolmarm was distancing, and the emphasis on intellectual conversation, while admirable, went a bit overboard. I was also frustrated by Howard's mother's "Movie Illness," in which she slows weakens with an unnamed sickness that makes her daily more beautiful. I was surprised, reading up on Howard afterwards, to find nothing all that specific about Mrs. Howard. She was "sick" and getting "sicker," and that's about it. She apparently lived Movie Illness before it was the in thing.

I recommend it nonetheless. It is a romance filled with the world of writing and reading, it is love based on a meeting of minds as well as deep feeling, and it is a touching story.

(Cross-post the Barbarian)