The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio
Written and directed by Jane Anderson
DreamWorks, opens September 30
Based on Terry Ryan's bestselling memoir about her mother, Evelyn, Prize Winner is shameless Eisenhower-era corn. In her third 1950s matriarch role in as many years, after 2002's Far From Heaven and The Hours, Julianne Moore struggles valiantly to maintain her dignity as a saintly housewife who writes commercial jingles. Evelyn dutifully tends to her brood of 10 while her machinist husband, Kelly (Woody Harrelson), spends the kids' milk money on hooch, spiraling into alcoholic rages during Red Sox games. Evelyn's wordsmithery wins toasters, freezers, exotic comestibles, cars, and cash; when Dr Pepper prize money saves the Ryan home from repossession, Kay Starr's "Wheel of Fortune" plays redundantly on the soundtrack. Helming her first feature, TV vet Jane Anderson, who also wrote the screenplay, relies too heavily on treacly gambits like direct address and, most horrifyingly, showing the real Ryan progeny rummaging through Mom's notebooks and caressing her Underwood. Only the utterance of words like homophone and inner rhyme spice up the bland proceedings for Moore's Midwest Mother Courage. There's no possible interracial romance to consider, no Mrs. Dalloway to read, no Toni Collette to smooch.