"You know what the problem is? You're too darn happy!",
This review is from: Prize Winner of Defiance [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC] (DVD)Evelyn Ryan (Julianne Moore) is a plucky, optimistic homemaker living in the small town of Defiance, Ohio. It is the mid-nineteen fifties and for most women in Evelyn's situation life's fulfillments consists mainly of raising children whilst being a dutiful wife, and trying to keep her home together. But Evelyn also has something very special to offer; she's part of a subculture called contesting, where word-savvy American housewives entered the countless jingle and slogan contests advertisers used to promote their products.
For Evelyn, however, this pastime isn't really about the fun, but more a way to obtain ready cash and merchandise to keep her working class family from going under. After all, Evelyn has six sons and four daughters to feed. Kelly, her husband (a marvelous Woody Harrelson) is an alcoholic. He truly loves his wife and kids but he is, for reasons that are explained in the movie, a crushed and disappointed man, who looks at Evelyn and sees a women who is much smarter than he is and who contains a ready supply of optimism and talent that he can only dream of.
Kelly is employed as a machine worker, but he drinks much of his income away, and spends his evenings throwing noisy, sometimes violent tantrums that alarm Evelyn and scare the kids. But Evelyn seems to know how to handle him, letting him rage and bluster the anguish away. There are plenty of trying moments for her, not the least of which is her weekly go-rounds averting creditors like the milkman (Simon Reynolds).
Evelyn soon realizes that as she can't take control of Kelly and the financial running of the household, so self-reliance is her only choice. This is 1956, and women's roles are heavily delineated, she doesn’t drive, and she's not invited to sign the mortgage; in this world, Miss America contestants confidently proclaim that women are too high-strung and emotional to hold national office, the irony of this remark being painfully obvious.
Evelyn has the patience of a saint and cleverly doesn't coddle her deprived husband, but she has limitless empathy for her embittered husband's fall from grace into the "ranks of ordinary men." Through all the hardships, the drunken rages, the needy children and the disappointments of never being able to treat herself to at least something, Evelyn is persistently cheerful and capable, running her household efficiently on pennies a day while managing to dole out acceptable proportions of attention and affection to each of her kids.
The performance is an absolute showpiece for the wonderful Julianne Moore, and she nails Evelyn's mixture of feisty resilience and quick-witted intelligence in the face of certain disaster and poverty. And while the movie has a tendency to be a trifle Hollywoodized – there's no way that Evelyn would be that thin and glamorous after giving birth to ten kids! – there's a real effort on the part of the writers to brings to life something deeper and wiser, something almost subversive in her character's refusal to be damaged by life's hardships.
Watching Evelyn, a woman of such fierce intelligence who could today perhaps be a hotshot career journalist working for a national newspaper, grin and bear it isn't exactly fun and at times is down right maddening, especially when she's dealing with her babyish, useless husband. But Moore puts across Evelyn's philosophy of forgiveness in the name of love and happiness with such a fierce and focused conviction, that one can't help being flawed by another terrific performance from this truly great actress. Mike Leonard March 06.
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