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Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, The
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Picture a cross between 'Far From Heaven' and the Jerry Lewis telethon"
1 stars

As everyone should know by now, seeing the words “Based on a True Story” at the start of a movie are hardly a guarantee that the events that we are about to see have any basis in reality; if you doubt me, go see “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” and then do a Google search of the actual case. However, I don’t mind when a filmmaker fudges certain details as long as the resulting storyline at least feels authentic. “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio” comes billed as a true story and for all I know, every single thing that we see in its 99 minutes may be 100% based on cold, hard facts but the problem with the film is that I didn’t believe a single minute of it. What sounds like an interesting idea for a story has been transformed into one of the weirder failures in a while–a complete miss where you come away without having any idea as to what point the filmmakers might have been trying to convey or even if they had a point in the first place.

In the film, Julianne Moore once again portrays a 1950's housewife trying to overcome the adversity of a suffocating marriage–instead of flirting with the black gardener or attempting a Virginia Woolf-inspired suicide, Evelyn Ryan helps make ends meet for her enormous family consisting of ten cutesy kids and Kelly, a drunken lout of a husband played by Woody Harrelson) by using her wits and writing skills to win an astonishing number of jingle contests. She has an unerring knack for entering contests that will win her prizes that come just in time to stave off disaster–the same day that an eviction notice arrives, she hits a $5,000 jackpot that allows the brood to move into a new home.

Sadly, their personal corporate subsidies (in this family, every day is like the Jerry Lewis telethon), neither Evelyn nor Kelly are especially happy–Evelyn never gets to enjoy the fruits of her labors and Kelly, a would-be crooner reduced to working as a machinist after a career-ending accident, becomes filled with self-loathing over the knowledge that it is Evelyn who has become the more dependable breadwinner. They deal with these traumas in different ways–Evelyn pours herself into her contests and seems to overlook the fact that she is married to the stupidest, cruelest and most thoughtless man seen outside of an Ashley Judd film while Kelly drinks, screams, puts his family in serious financial jeopardy and seems to have a nervous collapse after Evelyn finally strikes back by throwing Jello on him.

Writer-director Jane Anderson tries to juggle a number of wildly different tones–at various times, it tries to be the inspiring story of triumphing over adversity, a harrowing portrait of a generally grim marriage and a social satire of the period–but she never pulls off any of them and the abrupt shifts are simply too jarring to work. Although Moore is pretty good in a role in which she is asked to play only one note–the noble saint–Harrelson is stuck with a character so badly developed–either he is acting like a violent and drunken idiot or weeping about how he is a violent and drunken idiot–that he destroys whatever plausibility the film might have hoped to obtain. Most unforgivably, it even tries for a final shot of sentimentality by dragging in Ryan’s real-life children for a coda that is apparently meant to echo the similar finale in “Schindler’s List.”

A misconceived mess from beginning to end, “The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio” is another film that seems to have been designed for no other reason than to score Oscars but that is one contest where I suspect that the Prize Winner will be going home empty-handed.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=13117&reviewer=389
originally posted: 09/29/05 23:51:56
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User Comments

4/13/16 Katrina Weiss I enjoyed watching a movie partially about entering sweepstakes. 5 stars
10/07/07 Tiffany Losco I thought it was great, I do sweepstakes too. 5 stars
9/28/06 ES What a good mother 4 stars
3/14/06 Julio Bierce 5 stars
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  28-Sep-2005 (PG-13)
  DVD: 14-Mar-2006



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