Sister from Another Planet

Instead of showing us what makes any of these women remarkable (as opposed to, say, merely pathetic or disillusioned), the filmmakers mistakenly assume we will find poignance in their lost innocence. The ensemble cast is truly impressive; from Maya Angelou to Jean Simmons, the lead actresses deliver winning performances. But How to Make an American Quilt confuses extraordinary performers with extraordinary characters, as if just by casting Maya Angelou you bestow dramatic heft upon the part she plays no matter how thinly written.

I guess that kind of miscalculation is to be expected of filmmakers who would turn a plot on a violent windstorm that suddenly appears out of nowhere and changes everybody's lives. The laughs come cheap, too. You're supposed to howl at the scandalous behavior of Hy and Glady as they share a joint with Generation Xer Finn. Hate to spoil the slumber party, but we live in a time when real-life grandmothers deal crack; smoking pot seems quaint by comparison. Besides, the hip-old-lady shtick started losing its comedic edge sometime around 1972's Harold and Maude. If you're the type of person who busts a gut at the thought of sexagenarians Bancroft and Burstyn bouncing around exuberantly when a Neil Diamond tune plays over a car radio, this movie is for you. (My favorite bit was probably unintended by the filmmakers; I couldn't suppress a chuckle when Mrs. Robinson, er, I mean, Anne Bancroft, launched into a heartfelt lecture on the consequences of infidelity.)

Then there's the dialogue. How can any mildly serious movie fan stifle the gag reflex at lines like "Before long I told him about my broken heart and he told me his thoughts on poetry and love?" And what does Finn learn from all that sage advice she gets from her elders? In a word, nothing. "There are no rules you can follow," she concludes. "You have to go by instinct." Hopefully, instinct will convince audiences to avoid this pointless patchwork.

Of course, as you might have gathered from my byline, I'm a guy. How to Make an American Quilt is definitely not a guy film. As I squirmed impatiently in my theater seat waiting for this estrogen overdose to end, I couldn't help but notice that most of my fellow audience members -- a high percentage of whom were not guys -- appeared to be enjoying How to Make an American Quilt as thoroughly as I despised it. In the theater lobby after the screening two non-guys of my acquaintance, Vera Slawnitsch and Jami Renard, made an impassioned argument in favor of the film. They persuaded me to print their dissenting opinion of the film's merits from the Venusian perspective:

For all you hopeless romantics out there, this is a movie that's both heartwarming and realistic. Each main character's story, though ultimately disheartening, had an initial idealistic romantic outlook with which we could empathize. The film did not paint the most favorable picture of men, but each character's experiences helped open Finn's eyes to what she had all along in Sam A a soulmate. Just as it took various pieces of fabric, many hands, and much perseverance to make a quilt, so did that panoply of experiences influence Finn's final decision. It is refreshing to encounter the warmth, understanding, forgiveness, and optimism expressed in these women's stories even if the feeling does last for only two hours.

Now let me get back to Mars.

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