The Grass Harp

1996, PG, 107 min. Directed by Charles Matthau. Starring Piper Laurie, Walter Matthau, Sissy Spacek, Edward Furlong, Nell Carter, Jack Lemmon, Mary Steenburgen, Charles Durning, Joe Don Baker, Roddy McDowall.

REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Nov. 15, 1996

The memory fiction of Truman Capote often tells the story of a sensitive adolescent growing up in the company of older women, of a life forever shaped by undying affection and Southern eccentricity. In the film version of The Grass Harp, which is based on the autobiographical novella of the same name, the young man -- orphaned at an early age, living with two spinster aunts -- seems vaguely unconnected to the feminine psyche of the household in which he is being raised. The failing is due, in large part, to the performance of the vaguely unconnected Furlong. An actor of limited emotional range, Furlong always looks as if he's carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. To be fair, however, the direction of Matthau fils must also share the blame for the film's failure to capture the essence of Capote. Though The Grass Harp is clearly a labor of love, it's an awkward piece. Too prose-bound for its own good, it never fully realizes its potential as a movie. Luckily, with the exception of Furlong, the cast acquits itself well. Playing roles contrary to expectations, Laurie and Spacek are marvelous: As the soft-spoken and dreamy Aunt Dolly, Laurie convincingly plays against type, her performance embodying the film's fragile soul, while Spacek is surprisingly sympathetic as the hard-hearted Aunt Verena, a character whose seeming one-dimensionality is but a facade. (Interestingly enough, these two actresses, who play sisters here, were mother and daughter in Carrie 20 years ago.) But even these performances can't make up for the film's inability to create the world so beautifully evoked by Capote on the written page. The Grass Harp is a delicate instrument that must be played in an accomplished fashion, if it is to be music to the senses. Anything short of that just won't do.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 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  

More Piper Laurie Films
White Boy Rick
A true-life tale of coke, corruption, and betrayal

Marjorie Baumgarten, Sept. 14, 2018

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Hesher, the nihilistic antidote to a downbeat family in this drama that raises its middle finger toward nothing in particular.

Marjorie Baumgarten, May 13, 2011

More by Steve Davis
Biopic celebrates the life of queer luchador Saúl Armendáriz

Sept. 15, 2023

My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3
Nia Vardalos’ fossilized sequel to a sequel still has its charms

Sept. 8, 2023


The Grass Harp, Charles Matthau, Piper Laurie, Walter Matthau, Sissy Spacek, Edward Furlong, Nell Carter, Jack Lemmon, Mary Steenburgen, Charles Durning, Joe Don Baker, Roddy McDowall

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

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