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.
Kimberley Jones, Sept. 30, 2016
Oct. 2, 2020
Sept. 18, 2020
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