How to Make an American Quilt

1995, PG-13, 109 min. Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse. Starring Winona Ryder, Ellen Burstyn, Anne Bancroft, Dermot Mulroney, Maya Angelou, Kate Nelligan, Jean Simmons, Lois Smith, Alfre Woodard, Samantha Mathis, Kate Capshaw.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Oct. 6, 1995

How to Make an American Quilt blankets the audience with warm and fuzzy sentiments. In most ways, it's a nice enough movie. My problems with it stem from its clear desire to be something more than a “nice enough movie,” to become a mouthpiece for timeless wisdom and transcendent truths. The movie equates the evolution of love and the art of quilt making: Both bring diverse, contrasting, and conflicting elements to the overall mix but beauty is found through balanced placement and patchwork. Ryder serves as the hub of the story, a graduate student named Finn who is working to complete her third stab at a master's thesis. She is spending the summer at the country home of her grandmother (Burstyn) and Aunt Gladys Joe (Bancroft) despite the fact that her live-in boyfriend (Mulroney) has just proposed marriage. In between working on her thesis and chatting with the women who gather at the house for their regular quilting bee, Finn wonders whether it's better to marry a best friend or a best lover. Pardon my lack of suspense here, but it's obvious that anyone who searches for the correct answer to such a question is someone incapable of abandoning security for sexual impulse. The primary problem with How to Make an American Quilt, which was adapted from the bestselling novel by Whitney Otto, is its narrative structure. Each of the characters represents a quilt panel and the story of each panel is told discreetly, one by one by one. Yes, we get a sense of how their lives inter-connect but the movie's end result is more like a series of character outlines than a fleshed-out narrative fabric. In other words, it's too much “how-to” and not enough “quilt.” Perhaps it's just that I expected so much more from Jocelyn Moorhouse, the Australian director whose debut film Proof, about a blind photographer, was so penetrating and perverse. Certainly, How to Make an American Quilt has numerous good points, as well, and is far from a chore to watch. Next to Showgirls, this movie has probably provided women with the largest number of onscreen roles in any Hollywood production this year. And this particular group of actresses really does shine however, and it's a complete delight to watch them work. Their warm camaraderie cannot salvage this predictable script.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Jocelyn Moorhouse Films
The Dressmaker
Kate Winslet stars in this adaptation of the Australian best-seller

Kimberley Jones, Sept. 30, 2016

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
On the Rocks
Sofia Coppola heads to NYC for a slight but charming anti-rom-com

Oct. 2, 2020

The Way I See It
Portrait of presidential photographer Pete Souza has depth but lacks focus

Sept. 18, 2020

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

How to Make an American Quilt, Jocelyn Moorhouse, Winona Ryder, Ellen Burstyn, Anne Bancroft, Dermot Mulroney, Maya Angelou, Kate Nelligan, Jean Simmons, Lois Smith, Alfre Woodard, Samantha Mathis, Kate Capshaw

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle