• U.S.

CINEMA: EVERYBODY’S GOOD GIRL

3 minute read
Richard Schickel

Well, yes, Eddie (Dennis Quaid) is having an extramarital affair. And, yes, his wife Grace (Julia Roberts) finds out about it. And, for sure, there’s hell to pay before they sort of sort it out.

But Something to Talk About is not your typical adultery comedy, all farcical fizz and frenzy. Written by Callie Khouri, it is another empowerment play, like her Thelma and Louise. That, however, was a high-concept piece, two girls enjoying the boyish pleasures of a crime-and-bonding spree. This film is harder to describe (almost the highest praise you can offer a movie these days ), but it is equally good-natured and perhaps more intricately subversive in its assault on American patriarchy.

When Grace’s marriage heads south, she packs up her daughter and heads home to the family horse farm and a confrontation with the past that made her what she is–a woman too emotionally guarded and self-denying for her own good. Dad (Robert Duvall) is the soft-drawling dictator of a prosperous domain. Mom (Gena Rowlands) is the perpetual placater, for whom niceness is a moral imperative. Big Sister (Kyra Sedgwick) has a tough but funny tongue and, one guesses, a damaged soul.

And Grace? Grace is simply beside herself. At her genteel woman’s club she asks anyone else who has been sleeping with her husband to please identify herself. She also airs all the ladies’ sexual secrets. The uproar is hilarious. Back at the ranch, she asserts herself–and the reality principle–more hesitantly.

She’s always been everybody’s good girl, sacrificing her dreams (she wanted to be a veterinarian) to others’ expectations–marriage, motherhood, working in the family business. Her husband’s philandering having broken this unwritten contract with convention, she is free to re-examine her options. In the process she undermines her father’s authority, encourages her mother to join the revolution and, finally, goes back to school and, possibly, into a more realistic relationship with her now chastened mate.

Seems to you you’ve heard this song before? Yes. But it is very sweetly sung here. Khouri writes characters, not tracts; dialogue, not bumper stickers; and she has the good sense to let the men have their say–notably Eddie, who makes Grace understand that her distraction contributed to his wanderlust.

The director, Lasse Hallstrom (My Life as a Dog), is an unobtrusive craftsman who lets his actors breathe in an easy, unforced way, as if they were engaged not in a movie but in real lives. Roberts’ willowy vulnerability and watchful intelligence have never been shown to better advantage. And Rowlands is simply great in a scene where she breaks the silence of the years in a richly emotional encounter with her husband. It is not, mostly, about anger; it is about self-astonishment–at all she had inside her; at her unexpected (and scary) bravado in letting it out. Her performance is emblematic of a movie that, a few sideslips into familiar sentiment aside (they usually involve Grace’s child, played by Haley Aull), never lets its political correctness interfere with its delight in human incorrectness.

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