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Film Review: 1,000 acres, 3 daughters, lots of trouble

A Thousand Acres

Directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse

Written by Laura Jones

Starring Michelle Pfeiffer, Jessica Lange, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Colin Firth, Keith Carradine, evin Anderson, and Jason Robards

By Teresa Huang
Staff Reporter

A Thousand Acres, based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel by Jane Smiley, is an emotional look at family loyalty and trust which is unfortunately muddled by an overly idealistic setting and ambiguous characterizations. The characters are extremely complex, and by the end of the story the audience doesn't know any more about what the characters are thinking than they did at the start.

The film follows the Cook family and the struggles they encounter when the father, played by Jason Robards, impulsively decides to distribute his 1,000 acres of farmland to his three daughters, who each maintain very different relationships with their father. Eldest daughter Ginny, played by Jessica Lange, is the most loyal and idolizes her father. Angry daughter Rose, played by Michelle Pfeiffer, is linked to her father through Ginny, who keeps her from losing faith in their father. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Caroline, the youngest daughter who at first rejects her father's farmland offer, setting off a series of events which eventually divides the family forever.

The film gives an extremely idealistic view of farming tradition and family. Every morning Ginny walks a half a mile to cook breakfast for her father. All three daughters still refer to him as "Daddy," and only Caroline has left the 1,000 acres of land they grew up on to become a lawyer. The picture of contentment, however, breaks down as the movie progresses and secrets from the past are unwillingly unearthed.

The film maintains good intentions as it attempts to explore themes of loyalty and judgement. Rose questions whether the loyalty that Ginny shows her father makes her obedient or if her reluctance to judge him proves her stupidity. Through Rose and her bitter view of the world around her, Ginny begins to understand how differently people judge those who hurt them. The question of what values make a good daughter is also explored.

While the themes that A Thousand Acres deals with are serious, the environment in which it chooses to explore them is too idealistic and unrealistic. It doesn't seem possible that the daughters have been living at home for so long while ignoring unresolved conflicts and hidden desires in their own lives. It's also improbable that none of the sisters have taken time to understand their father's thoughts and feelings better. When the father suddenly has an outburst of anger on a stormy night, Rose and Ginny reject him on the spot. There seems to be no compassion or attempt to comprehend why their father is suddenly acting so irrationally. Other pieces from the past surface as the movie progresses, but the new information doesn't serve to help us understand the family any more. One thing that is clear is that the land doesn't cause their problems, flaws in their own characters do.

A Thousand Acres suffers from too many plots and subplots. Jane Smiley's novel is excellent but is too complex to transfer effectively to the silver screen. Although the power of the performances is strong, the characters don't realistically relate to each other and the lessons learned are lost along the way.