The Prize Winner Of Defiance, Ohio

Julianne Moore sparkles as a patient, saintly '50s housewife who uses her smarts to provide for her family of 12 in this sweet adaptation of a true story. Well-educated aspiring writer Evelyn Ryan (Moore) met her husband, Kelly (Woody Harrelson), when he was a crooner with a touch of bad-boy edge. They married and eventually had 10 children, but times turned...read more

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Reviewed by Angel Cohn
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Julianne Moore sparkles as a patient, saintly '50s housewife who uses her smarts to provide for her family of 12 in this sweet adaptation of a true story. Well-educated aspiring writer Evelyn Ryan (Moore) met her husband, Kelly (Woody Harrelson), when he was a crooner with a touch of bad-boy edge. They married and eventually had 10 children, but times turned tough when his vocal chords were injured, and now he has to work as a machinist to support his brood. Kelly's frustration and unhappiness with his lot in life worsen as the years pass, and he begins spending his paychecks on booze. A protective mother, Evelyn shields her kids from his blackout rages and starts to supplement their income by "contesting." Evelyn has a natural knack for jingle writing, and submits multiple entries in her kids' names to increase her chances of winning. Her persistence and dedication help her win a slew of prizes, from small but necessary items like toasters and birdseed to more substantial fare, including a supermarket-shopping spree and a car. But Kelly feels increasingly emasculated by each new prize, especially when they use Evelyn's $5000 winnings to make a down payment on a new house. He asserts his authority by refusing to let her sign the deed or the check that was awarded in the name of one of the younger children. The indomitable Evelyn refuses to let Kelly's actions diminish her spirit or optimism, and begins a correspondence with Dortha (Laura Dern), head of the "jingle belles," a group of expert contest-entrants. Evelyn would love to meet them in person, but for a woman who doesn't drive and never leaves the boundaries of her small town, such a get-together may be an impossible dream. Though this nostalgic film's ending seems a little neat and pat (if it weren't based on fact it would come off as more than a little unbelievable), Evelyn's optimism in the face of ongoing adversity never feels schmaltzy or tacky. Moore and Harrelson are very well cast, and though the kids are almost interchangeable — there are so many and they keep changing appearance as they get older — they cohere as a group and their loyalty toward their mother is both touching and utterly convincing.

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  • Released: 2005
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Review: Julianne Moore sparkles as a patient, saintly '50s housewife who uses her smarts to provide for her family of 12 in this sweet adaptation of a true story. Well-educated aspiring writer Evelyn Ryan (Moore) met her husband, Kelly (Woody Harrelson), when he w… (more)

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