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Bastard out of Carolina Movie Review

abuse film malone huston

This exceptional first film by director Anjelica Huston was first intended for broadcast on Turner Network Television, which would have aired it with commercials. It was actually a blessing that it first aired on the Showtime Network without interruption 10 days before Christmas. (Showtime had originally planned to make the film until director Allison Anders resigned, then it wound up at TNT with Huston and the rest is history.) There is no tasteful way to show the horror of child abuse on film without running into the Rashomon syndrome: did that nice-looking stepfather actually rape his wife's daughter? Did the little girl provoke him? Seduce him? Lie? Then it becomes a mystery and takes the point of view away from the child. Twelve-year-old Jena Malone is remarkable as “Bone” Boatwright, whose performance was partly inspired by her conversations with a close friend who experienced child abuse. With her sad little face and frail physical presence, Malone would break anyone's heart, but her ability to communicate how she internalizes her wretched life is her greatest strength as an actress here. Top-billed Jennifer Jason Leigh is less satisfactory as her mother, Anney. Leigh tends to work from the outside in; sometimes it works spectacularly well, sometimes it doesn't. By playing Anney in a perpetual daze, she's outclassed here by fellow cast members Grace Zabriskie, Diana Scarwid, Christina Ricci, and best of all, Glenne Headley. Fortunately, Leigh's straight-line, untextured interpretation doesn't compromise the film, since the toughest acting assignment belongs to Ron Eldard as Glen Waddell. Eldard had previously done an expert job playing a loose cannon with surface appeal named Shep opposite Julianna Margulies’ Carol Hathaway on E.R. His violent impulses come from a different place as the repellent Glen, and you can see why he would attract outsiders while carrying on his own private war of nerves with Bone. He's diseased, but frighteningly sane, and his eroticism is clearly detached from the target of his abuse. The sequences revealing Glen's abuse of Bone are so clear and so real that you'll want to jump into the narrative and tear her away from him, which may be the whole point of Bastard out of Carolina. It isn't exposure of child abuse that destroys families, but the abuse itself, a distinction that hasn't always been made entirely clear in previous movies that focus on this crime against children. Huston's directorial debut is a bold, brave film with no easy answers, but with plenty of haunting questions about the never-ending nightmares that represent childhood for far too many children on this planet. Based on the best-selling novel by Dorothy Allison.

1996 (R) 97m/C Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jena Malone, Ron Eldard, Glenne Headly, Lyle Lovett, Dermot Mulroney, Christina Ricci, Michael Rooker, Diana Scarwid, Susan Traylor, Grace Zabriskie; D: Anjelica Huston; W: Anne Meredith; C: Anthony B. Richmond; M: Van Dyke Parks. Nominations: Independent Spirit Awards ‘97: Debut Performance (Malone). VHS

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