Video Picks & Passes
The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: PICK
Ice Age — Special Edition: PICK
Lady and the Tramp: PICK
The ongoing Hollywood deconstruction of Eisenhower-era American values hits a speed bump of sorts in The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (new on DVD), a whimsical, stylish tribute to the wit and inner strength of a Donna Reed-esque housewife and mother of 10 (Julianne Moore) whose buoyancy and creative flair hold her family together in spite of little help and indeed much resistance from her alcoholic, bullying husband (Woody Harrelson).
Based on the memoir of one of “prize-winner” Evelyn Ryan’s 10 children, writer-director Jane Anderson’s film recalls the 1950s’ phenomenon of jingle-writing “contesting,” which could be a veritable cottage industry for verbally apt housewives.
Like Far From Heaven and The Hours — both of which also starred Julianne Moore as a 1950s housewife in a deeply troubled marriage — Prize Winner is overshadowed by the dark side of the “Leave It to Beaver” era. Here it’s seen beneath the primary colors and cheery modernity as an old boys’ network in which neighborhood policemen and the alcoholic parish priest have more sympathy and understanding for a drunken, loutish husband and father than for his long-suffering wife.
Yet Evelyn is no passive victim. In contrast to The Hours’ bitter manifesto on behalf of “women living lives they have no wish to live,” Prize Winner celebrates a woman who chooses happiness despite the glaring problems of her world. Where Moore’s character in The Hours is driven to abandon her husband and family, Evelyn’s commitment to her family and her faith is unmoved by the failures of her husband and her priest. It’s an almost subversively idealistic subtext to a now-familiar ritual exposé of the American dream.
Returning to DVD for special editions are a pair of animated family films, one new and one old. Chris Wedge’s Ice Age follows a familiar odd-couple story formula similar to Shrek and Monsters, Inc., and if it isn’t quite as original as either of those films, a witty script and moments of real heart still qualify it as one of the better family films in recent years.
Like Shrek and Monsters, Inc., Ice Age pairs a taciturn, lumbering hero (Ray Romano’s woolly mammoth) and a diminutive, wisecracking sidekick (John Leguizamo’s sloth) on a mission to escort a third character (here as in Monsters, Inc. a human baby) to some final destination. Though generically predictable, the film’s themes of friendship and sacrifice carry some sincerity, and the film is sprightly, funny, wholesome entertainment for (almost) the whole family.
Returning to DVD for a 50th anniversary edition is Disney’s Lady and the Tramp, best remembered for the most famous animated kiss in history, the justly celebrated “Bella Notte” pooch spaghetti-eating scene in the alley behind Tony’s Italian restaurant.
The familiar story centers on a pampered cocker spaniel named Lady, whose privileged place in her owners’ lives is challenged by the arrival of a baby and winds up on the run with a scruffy stray named Tramp. Of course in the end Lady makes a respectable pet out of Tramp.
Lushly animated, with beautifully designed characters and a well-structured script, Lady and the Tramp is surpassed only by One Hundred and One Dalmatians and perhaps Sleeping Beauty in the period between Bambi and Beauty and the Beast.
- March 12-18, 2006