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Roberts expands range with Something to Talk About

Something to Talk About

Directed by Lasse Hallstrom.

Written by Callie Khouri.

Starring Julia Roberts, Dennis Quaid, Robert Duvall, Gena Rowlands, and Kyra Sedgewick.

Sony Cheri.

By Scott Deskin

Julia Roberts has come to a turning point in her career. No longer the simple, nubile "Pretty Woman" of yesteryear, she's failed to reinvent her cinematic persona in several different starring roles. In Sleeping with the Enemy, she was terrorized by an obsessive ex-husband; in The Pelican Brief, she was terrorized by corrupt government agents; and in I Love Trouble, she was terrorized by the lack of chemistry with co-star Nick Nolte in a lame romantic-adventure-comedy. Roberts was fine in the celebrity hodgepodge of Ready to Wear, but that was just a minor role. Industry insiders have no doubt been poised to slay her next starring performance (unlike the fawning music critics of Roberts' ex-husband, Lyle Lovett).

Roberts' latest film, Something to Talk About, is change of pace for the 29-year-old actress. She goes out on a limb as Grace, a frazzled thirty-ish wife and mother who leads a fairly dull and unhappy life. From the opening scenes, we can tell this much about her: The love between Grace and her husband (Dennis Quaid) has fizzled to the point where they barely acknowledge each other in the morning; her scatterbrained nature prompts her to leave for work, driving a few blocks before realizing she's left her daughter at home; and her immediate family, which breeds and rides horses, causes her eternal grief as her parents and sister are as impulsive and headstrong as she is.

When Grace learns that her husband is a philanderer (she actually sees him in a loving embrace with another woman on the street), her life goes to pieces. After finding him in a bar and confronting him with the news in her nightgown, she retreats to her family's ranch for safety and comfort - not that they provide her with much. Her parents are archetypes of dysfunction, and it serves as a reminder of Grace's own marital problems, adding to her guilt and frustration. When her father (Robert Duvall) tries to convince Grace of her duty to keep the family together, the stage is set for her personal revenge on her husband. First, in a preliminary visit to the ranch, Grace's acid-tongued sister (Kyra Sedgewick) knees her husband in the crotch. Later, one of Grace's aunts gives her a surefire recipe for her husbands' dinner: Obviously, the marriage isn't beyond what a "near- death experience" can remedy.

If these plot twists sound cruel and crass, they are; but, they provide some relief from the seriousness of the underlying subject matter - marital infidelity and broken families. To call the film mean-spirited is missing the point of humor as a caustic but necessary medium to contextualize the story's foundations in reality. To this effect, director Lasse Hallstrom (What's Eating Gilbert Grape?) handles the subject matter with delicacy and poignancy, not letting the characters' actions overwhelm the characters themselves. Sedgewick gets most of the good lines as the younger sibling, but Roberts carries the film with the charm and earnestness she gives her role.

Screenwriter Callie Khouri (Thelma and Louise) has middling success with the storyline. She molds some imperfect and rough characters and gives them the opportunity to cut loose and rail against the injustices that society and family have dealt them. But after a lengthy setup, the film loses steam and opts for a climax that brings the subplot about horse riding front and center. There is also a conventional Hollywood happy ending that feels vaguely artificial.

Still, the movie's positive attributes outweigh its negative ones. Despite a shaky start and a slick finish, so many of the performances clicked that I found myself drawn in anyway. It's certainly not the best movie to deal with such subject matter, but its offers a new, fresh perspective on who actually gets hurt in relationships. And Julia Roberts may have expanded her cinematic range at long last: Hopefully she won't have to return to any more obnoxious thrillers to revive her career.