Julianne Moore’s radiant performance as Evelyn Ryan does for this movie what the real-life Ryan’s “contest-ing” did for her family in the 1950’s — it holds it together with such mesmerizing grace that it makes the rough patches seem endearing.
The book that inspired this movie is the memoir by one of Ryan’s 10 children about the way that their stay-at-home mother supported the family by winning contests from companies offering money and prizes for the best jingle or limerick or recipe.
We didn’t call them stay-at-home mothers back then. They were just mothers, or maybe housewives. And Ryan looks like one of the moms from a 1950’s television program, always wearing a dress and an apron, always either diapering a baby, ironing a shirt, or making sloppy joes for everyone. And always smiling. Until most of her children were grown up, Ryan never ate a meal she didn’t cook or slept in a bed she didn’t make. If she wanted to go somewhere, she needed to ask for a ride because she did not know how to drive. She almost went to New York once, when she won a trip in a contest. But the family needed her, so she stayed home. She heard from another “contest-er” who invited her to visit the “Alpha-Daisies,” a whole group of contest-enterers, including one in a cheerfully decorated iron lung, and it became her dream to have a chance to meet those women.
Writer/director Jane Anderson (the biting The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom and the sensitive transgender drama Normal) uses stylized narrative techniques to invoke the perkiness and optimism of the 1950’s. At first it seems like a cutesy device to recall and gently tease the perky pastel harmonized style of the 1950’s. But it becomes clear that it is emblematic of Evelyn’s own imperishable open-heartedness. Like its heroine, the movie has its limits and obstacles, but it is very winning.
Parents should know that a theme of the movie is Kelly’s alcoholism and the impact on his family. He uses some strong language, including the f-word, and there are brief depictions of domestic abuse and some graphic injuries following accidents.
Families who see this movie should talk about Evelyn’s optimism and patience. Her comment to Tuff is reminiscient of the famous Zen parable.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy seeing Moore as a 1950’s housewife coping with a difficult marital situation in Far From Heaven (some mature material).