A Piece of Eden
2000, NR, 112 min. Directed by John Hancock. Starring Jeff Puckett, Frederic Forrest, Marshall Efron, Tristan Rogers, Tyne Daly, Robert Breuler, Rebecca Harrell, Marc Grapey.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., July 21, 2000
The Tredici family, late of Corsica, has settled in the farmlands of Indiana and is trying to make a go of 240 acres of apple orchards that have seen better days. When patriarch Franco (Breuler), a bearded behemoth slowly going to seed among the parallel rows of fruit planted by his father at the turn of the century, accidentally lands in the hospital with third-degree burns, Tredicis near and far come to be by his side and keep the beloved orchards running. First and foremost is estranged son Bob (Grapey), the head of a New York TV publicity bureau who rushes to his father's side with his cheerfully ebullient secretary Happy (Harrell) tagging along and posing as his new bride. Then there's Bob's Aunt Aurelia (Daly), a stern farmer's wife intent on maintaining the status quo in the face of Bob's reluctant desire to upgrade and modernize the family's farming operations, and Paulo (Forrest), the black-sheep brother (a designation the family seems to inspire in most of its kin, actually). Hancock, who directed one of the best films ever about the sport and art of baseball -- Bang the Drum Slowly -- has more or less vanished from the cinematic radar over the years, finding work in television, advertising, and the occasional feature such as 1989's Christmas tale Prancer (itself set in a similar Indiana locale). There's no doubt that Hancock has a feel for this sort of rural melodrama (the production notes mention that he grew up in similar circumstances before embarking on a career in film and theatre), and while A Piece of Eden is a righteously inoffensive work in the extreme -- the kind of film that the MPAA's PG rating was made for -- it's also relentlessly predictable. Because the Tredici family hails from Corsica (the name translates to the numeral “13” in Italian, and boy, do we know where that's going), there's an air of the old country to this American family farm. Hancock frequently uses black-and-white flashbacks to show the evolution of the supposed Tredici curse; Bob's grandfather lost his flock of sheep to a lemming-like event at a Corsican cliff back in the old days, and that tragedy and others hang over the family like a grim gray cloud. A Piece of Eden has its moments though, thanks in part to a subtle score from the great Angelo Badalamenti (Twin Peaks, The Beach) and Misha Suslov's (Weeds) elegiac and evocative cinematography, which manages to capture the warm ripeness of this agrarian family at the crossroads. Hancock's messages here -- the family that farms together stays together, or something along those lines -- is straight from the John Mellencamp school of rural oversimplification. The homilies being taught here are so broad in their scope, and so obvious, that they come less as surprises than simple speed bumps on the road to “The End.” And that's too bad, because the plight of the American farmer -- and the American family -- remains as fertile a ground for powerful cinematic storytelling today as it was 60 years ago when John Ford let the ghost of Tom Joad loose on the blighted American consciousness.