Anywhere But Here
1999, PG-13, 114 min. Directed by Wayne Wang. Starring Susan Sarandon, Natalie Portman, Shawn Hatosy, Bonnie Bedelia, Nart Bochner, Caroline Aaaron, Corbin Allred.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Nov. 19, 1999
The relationship between mother and daughter is often a prickly one, as Clytemnestra and Electra can attest. In recent films -- Terms of Endearment, Mermaids, and Gas Food Lodging come to mind -- the conflict between the two is usually a balled-up matter of maternal instinct and female independence. Anywhere but Here is no different in this respect; its mother and daughter symbiotically clash with an innate understanding of their mythic squabbling. The resentment that teenage Ann feels toward her unconventional mother, Adele, isn't homicidal -- at least, not seriously so -- but it's made her, as the latter half-kiddingly observes, a “hostile, withdrawn loner.” Uprooted from safe, familial surroundings in small-town Wisconsin, Ann is kidnapped, as she puts it, by her own mother to relocate in Beverly Hills, where Adele instinctively believes the two of them belong. (The purchase of a used, gold Mercedes that they really can't afford ominously marks the outset of their liberation west.) In a voiceover narration threading the film, Ann looks forward to the day that she will escape this maternal bondage, knowing fully that the break will be bittersweet. For all of Adele's bravado, it is her daughter who is, for all intents and purposes, the caretaker in their relationship. Anywhere but Here strives to depict its love-hate relationship in emotionally neutral terms, but the sympathies are ultimately lopsided. Adele's insecurities manifest themselves somewhat sadistically; her selfishness is not the stuff of “Mother of the Year.” And while you may try to understand this complicated woman, you're seldom on her side, unlike the connection you experience when Aurora Greenway roars like a lioness in the second half of Terms of Endearment. (Rightly or wrongly, our cultural idealization of the mother figure may color your view of Adele and this film, depending on your gender or experience.) As an actress, Sarandon comes close to iconic status, in large part because she's embraced her maturity in a way few actresses have dared. In Anywhere but Here, however, she just puts on airs. The dramatic gestures, the red fingernail polish, the Capri pants -- they're all intended to communicate a carefree spirit -- but, ultimately, they're signifiers of no real depth. (An acting audition in which Ann mimics her mother only underscores this superficiality.) As the unhappy Ann, Portman is more grounded, more a real person than a type. This incredibly striking young woman (the most beautiful in the 1996 film Beautiful Girls) doesn't give the proverbial breakthrough performance here, but she's damn close. Despite the script's repeated frustration and anger that Ann feels toward her mother, Portman imbues the role with a degree of freshness. (Her interaction with an L.A. cop dispensing mother-daughter advice is priceless.) While it has its faults, Anywhere but Here isn't directionless, by any means, but its compass is slightly off-kilter. It's a shortcoming, however explainable, that makes this movie a difficult one to read.