One True Thing - * * 1/2*

One True Thing

Director Carl Franklin tackles this small-scale tearjerker, based on Anna Quindlen’s novel One True Thing. Although good, and appropriately sad, it never reaches its full potential.

Ellen Gulden (Renee Zellweger) never had a good relationship with her mother, Kate (Meryl Streep). Instead, she has always idolized her father, George (William Hurt), a writer of moderate reknown. Following in his footsteps, she is well on her way toward a career as a feature writer at a New York magazine.

But, everything changes when she learns her mom has cancer. Someone needs to stay home and take care of Kate until she feels better, and Ellen has been drafted for the job. Reluctant at first, she soon learns how everything her mother does is much more difficult and underappreciated than she originally thought.

Those duties aren’t made any easier by the approach of the holiday season. Kate is thoroughly involved in the community, and her women’s group, the Minnies, administer various holiday activities and functions as well as decorating the entire town. And all this falls in Ellen’s lap, who doesn’t have a decorative bone in her entire body.

If all this sounds like the ingredients for a sentimental tearjerker, well, it is. However, although blatantly sentimental, the movie never gets as downright weepy as similar tales. This is both a good and a bad thing. It’s good in that the film doesn’t overplay its emotional hand…but bad in that a movie of this caliber should be able to tap those depths of emotion without overplaying its hand.

The problem with One True Thing can’t be traced to one specific element of the film. Most everything here is done well and good. The problem is that there’s little that is great in the film.

Case in point, take the performances. Streep is good as the ailing mom, but it’s a performance which won’t rank high along with her illustrious career. Zellweger holds her own in a rather large role in the company of rather prominent actors. William Hurt seems to drift through his part, still recovering from his Lost in Space misadventure. (As a side note, he actually gets to mutter “Danger Will Robinson” at one point in the film.)

Although a nice little sentimental film, One True Thing never taps its potential. It is alternately entertaining and sad, but not the three-hankie tearjerker it strives to be. One True Thing tops out at one hankie, if that.

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