Susan Sarandon sinks her teeth deep into the character of a restless mother and shakes a little life into this otherwise unadventurous adaptation of Mona Simpson's novel. Determined not to die in the small town of Bay City, WI, Adele August (Sarandon) buys herself a gold second-hand Mercedes, tosses a few bags in the trunk and her 14-year-old daughter Ann (Natalie Portman) in the passenger seat, and blithely waves goodbye to husband number two (Ray Baker) and the rest of her family. She's headed for the good life in California, but for Ann the move means being torn from the family she loves and left at the mercy of her mother's selfish, irresponsible whims. Adele finds a cheap apartment on the outskirts of Beverly Hills, enrolls Ann in school and lands herself a job teaching speech therapy, but whatever money she makes is gone before Adele remembers to pay the electric bill or buy furniture. As they bounce from apartment to apartment, Adele tries to convince Ann — and herself — that leaving home was the best thing for them, while Ann wants nothing more than to get as far away from her mother as she possibly can. Directed by Wayne Wang, whose JOY LUCK CLUB also took on tricky mother-daughter relationships, the film lightens the tone of Simpson's comic but undeniably angry book. As a result, the film lacks the real emotional wallop these two fine actresses — whose glares alone speak louder that Alvin Sargent's dialogue — seem ready to provide. Rather than a woman whose emotional disturbance might well be ruining her daughter's life, Mom comes off as a fun but misguided Auntie Mame, exhorting the hapless Adele to feast at the banquet of life. But Sarandon does manage to find the edges to her character and occasionally slips a little darkness into Adele's vivaciousness, hinting at a disorder that goes beyond mere self-absorption and a lust for life.