In Wayne Wang's star-driven adaptation of Mona Simpson's tragicomic bestseller
about a mismatched mother and daughter, fortysomething Adele August (Susan Sarandon) is every adolescent's nightmare: over- (or under-) dressed, always and loudly "on," forgetful of mundane matters such as bills, more colorful kid than reliable mum. In contrast, 14-year-old Ann (Natalie Portman) yearns for stability, roots, understated hues. Transplanted from Wisconsin small town and extended family to a Beverly Hills, California, address of choice for American Dreamers like Adele, Ann comes painfully of age--sometimes blighted but also enriched by the fictions of a charismatic parent afraid to be alone in the dark.
Wang has always shown a sure, caring hand when it comes to cross-generational angst (see Dim Sum: A Little Bit of Heart, The Joy Luck Club, Smoke). Here, he encourages Sarandon in a remarkably brave, exposed performance as an aging adventuress whose imagination continually outstrips her ability to make dreams come true, whose charm is both her ticket to ride and a dead end. Portman's pout of strained adolescent distaste soon wears thin, but when The Phantom Menace's kabuki princess momentarily thaws, she projects a lost child's terrible shock and confusion. Hollywood-sized and scripted by the numbers, Anywhere but Here lost ground to Tumbleweeds, a similarly themed but more nuanced indie (with Oscar-nominated Janet McTeer), and it can't hold a candle to Barbara Stanwyck's Stella Dallas (1937), top of the line in this particular genre. But for any daughter who's looked into her mother's face and--yikes!--seen a possible future, this trip's definitely worth taking. --Kathleen Murphy