A Map Of The World

A near-textbook example of a highly praised novel that probably shouldn't have been filmed, this study of a family under pressure has all the right intentions but never overcomes the essential problem of showing what's going on inside people's heads. Sharp-tongued, irreverent Alice (Sigourney Weaver) would be a hit in SoHo, but in Prairie Center, WI, she's...read more

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Reviewed by Maitland McDonagh
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A near-textbook example of a highly praised novel that probably shouldn't have been filmed, this study of a family under pressure has all the right intentions but never overcomes the essential problem of showing what's going on inside people's heads.

Sharp-tongued, irreverent Alice (Sigourney Weaver) would be a hit in SoHo, but in Prairie Center, WI, she's merely tolerated; conspicuous intelligence and an ironic sense of humor don't play well with her unimaginative neighbors. Alice's husband (David Straithairn) is passionately devoted to

farming (though not very successful at it), but Alice doesn't share his enthusiasm. Between caring for two small children and working as a school nurse, she feels she's slowly smothering under a sand hill of mundane responsibilities. The couple's only real friends are Dan (Ron Lea) and Theresa

(Julianne Moore), who also have two little girls. Alice's life begins to disintegrate when Theresa's younger daughter drowns in Alice's pond; shortly after, Alice is accused of sexually abusing a local boy. The next thing she knows, she's in jail, despised equally by fellow inmates and former

acquaintances. Don't be fooled: This is no tabloid romp. The script, adapted from Jane Hamilton's 1994 novel, is dense with the mundane stuff of real life: burnt eggs, squalling children, spilled cereal, dirty diapers and sputtering car engines. Alice is a prickly heroine, and Weaver's portrayal

of a woman who's true to herself only to find that careless honesty can have horrible consequences, is beautifully uncompromising. She's perfectly matched by Moore, who gives ideal homemaker Theresa enormous depth and resonance. But the film suffers from a certain flatness. Most of the drama is

interior, bound up in the disparity between the way Alice sees the world and the way it sees her. Dialogue and voice-over can't compensate for the absence of a novelist's words.

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