A scene from 'Anywhere But Here'
Courtesy Photo
*** stars 114 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Friday, November 12, 1999
Directed by Wayne Wang

Starring Susan Sarandon, Natalie Portman, Eileen Ryan, Ray Barker, John Diehl, Shawn Hatosy, Bonnie Bedelia, Michael Milhoan & Thora Birch


75-percent of this movie is the imapct of the performances so it should come across strongly on the small screen. Will appeal mostly to those who identify closely with the daughter character. Good Saturday afternoon flick.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 5/2/2000

Wayne Wang:
"Chinese Box" (1998)

Susan Sarandon:
"Stepmom" (1998)
"James & the Giant Peach" (1996) voice

Natalie Portman:
"Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" (1999)
"Mars Attacks!" (1996)
"Everyone Says I Love You" (1996)

Shawn Hatosy:
"Outside Providence" (1999)
  + interview
"The Faculty" (1998)
"Niagara Niagara" (1998)
"All Over Me" (1997)
"In & Out" (1997)
"Inventing the Abbotts" (1997)
"The Postman" (1997)
"Home For the Holidays" (1995)

Thora Birch:
"American Beauty" (1999)

Sublime Sarandon, Portman keep 'Anywhere' from going nowhere

By Rob Blackwelder

With any lesser actresses than Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman in the lead roles, the turbulent mother-daughter relationship at the center of "Anywhere But Here" might be little more than fodder for another Lifetime Channel movie -- especially with such a pathetic title.

In fact, I can't imagine what drew director Wayne Wang ("Smoke," "The Joy Luck Club") to what on paper must have looked like a rather prosaic project about a middle-aged woman, desperate for a fresh start, dragging her inimical teenager from Wisconsin to Los Angeles in the hopes of creating a fulfilling and glamorous new life.

But Wang's ability to extract vitality and depth from even the most obvious female roles (a hooker in his "Chinese Box" became a symbol of Hong Kong at the end of English rule) begets such effortlessly extraordinary performances from his stars that this seemingly pedestrian story will ring true for anyone who is now or has ever been a teenage girl embarrassed and imposed upon by her mother. (Frankly, there isn't much here for guys, I'm afraid.)

Sarandon lends history and intricacy to the barely-veiled neuroses of her falsely chipper, ego-battered single mom, who projects all her unfulfilled ambitions onto her irked offspring. Portman, in turn, lends such weight and dimension to her character's piercing adolescent angst that she transcends the cookie-cutter cinema teen lurking in the script.

The story is essentially a roller-coaster of been there-done that emotional peaks and valleys -- including Sarandon's romantic desperation that drives men away and Portman's abandonment issues (regarding her father) and frustrated efforts to make her mother acknowledge that she's growing up.

But the movie's vivid character details -- the series of cheap, unfurnished flats the twosome live in while Sarandon works low-paying jobs, the fact that she honestly thinks she can pass for Beverly Hills elite because she drives a 1974 Mercedes -- are what these actresses latch on to in order to make their portrayals so unexpectedly engrossing.

"Anywhere But Here" is vexed by a superfluous voice-over provided by Portman and occasional lapses in authenticity, especially when it comes to Portman's budding sexuality (she and boy she likes act more like 13-year-olds than the high school seniors they play). But it's nothing these sublimely natural actresses can't handle.


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