Chris Columbus (1998, Columbia Tristar)
Starring Susan Sarandon, Julia Roberts, Ed Harris, and Jena
A step-mom learns to cope with an ex-wife and her jealous kids.
View Count: Twice
March 11th, 2002 on the TV
Very touching, very real-life, and an excellent example of a story about
acceptance in the face of huge prejudices.
I had forgotten a lot about this movie. Everybody did a great job in the acting
department. Julia Roberts was good as the ex-husband's lover, who doesn't want
kids, but knows that they are important to her boyfriend, so tries her best,
while not giving up her lifestyle. It reminds me of "those people" who claim
that when they have kids, nothing in their life will change. If that were true,
no doubt their children are getting the raw end of the deal and feel neglected.
It was nice to see her finally quit her job near the end, choosing the welfare
of the children over a lifestyle that she no longer wants, but I think her boss
should have been bluffing, and started to make compromises.
She grows close to the kids, especially after being threatened with a court
order by their mother, who blames her for losing young Ben in Central Park. His
line "I knew exactly where I was" is typical and precious! Isabel at first tries
to bribe them (with food and a puppy), but eventually gets to be their friends
simply by being herself. And after she finds out that Jackie has cancer, the
relationship suddenly becomes one of amiability. Of course, there are still
rough times, as the two "mothers" have different approaches to life.
Jackie, played by Susan Sarandon, was incredible. She was completely believable
in any situation, from being bitingly sarcastic, bitter, overprotective, to sad,
reluctant, and calm. In fact, she displays her character's features perfectly
when showing us that face where Jackie tries to pretend that she's cool. We can
see it in her eyes, and the only reason that the other characters can't is
because they are not paying attantion. Though her expression is one of calm
acceptance, such as when she finds out about the cancer, or when her ex-husband
announces his plans to engage Isabel, we can see her thoughts, because Sarandon
plays the role so perfectly!
She is the perfect mother, who has time for her children no matter what. She is
never late, always remembers every appointment and schedule (which is hilarious
when she tries to recite the complex thing to Isabel!), and is perfect in every
other way. She is politely curious about events, but we can tell that she
doesn't want to pry. She lets her children know that they can come to her, but
won't try to force information out of them. She calmly accepts her pre-teen's
constantly-changing mind with regards to everything, including a Halloween
costume that is already made.
Ed Harris doesn't get much to do in this film, and he disappears for long
stretches at a time. He is the focal point, however, as everything revolves
around him. He is the reason that Isabel ends up taking care of the children,
and the reason for so much of Jackie's anguish. The children love him, of
course, but they love their mother more. Ben's line "if you want me to hate
[Isabel], I will" is gut wrenching, and has to be the saddest part of the entire
Ben has a totally perfect character. A magician at heart, he really does look
like "he has something to hide", a secret he is keeping from everybody. His face
is a permanent smirk, and he is able to play it up in such a way the nobody with
a tiny bit of emotion could get angry at him for more than an instant. He goes
on without a care in the world, enjoying time with his mother and Isabel, though
he enjoys lots of practical jokes, and he even rejoices in thinking that he
"killed Isabel!" His Halloween costume as a bunny being pulled from a hat was
hilarious! But more touching was the idea of "dream vacations", which he
takes with his mom. The description of those is funny as well, as Ben
declines to go to Disneyland because the lines were too long last time!
Anna is a young beauty, with unusual maturity. She is adult enough to know what
is going on, but child enough that she can't hide her emotions. She gives glares
that could kill after walking in on Isabel and her father having sex in the
shower. She delights in telling Isabel off, making sure that she knows that she
is not her mother. She even throws some excellent digs at her father,
telling him that it was his job to walk away from her mother!
Surprisingly, it is Anna who fulfills the swing that brings Isabel into the
family for good (aside from the cancer revelation). She has some excellent
conversations with Jackie. Both of them hold up their end of the conversation
extremely well, with grace and maturity. We know that Anna should never have
trouble bringing up subjects of any sort with her mother. But, as she gets to
know Isabel more and more, and because Isabel is an intermediate in age between
herself and her mother, she starts to share more with her, as well. When it
comes to make-up and boys, she turns exclusively to Isabel.
Which, of course, leads to the climactic scene, where Anna has boy problems. Her
mother's advice, to ignore the boy, leads to humiliation. Isabel decides to
humiliate the boy, by bringing a gorgeous Calvin Klein model to the school and
pretending to have him meet with Anna. This method works better, gives Anna
feelings of pride. But as her mother points out to Isabel, might she choose the
underhanded way every time her life gets difficult. I think Anna was mature
enough to make the decision on whether that method was justified or not.
Sometimes you can't deal rationally with people, as much as you might want to.
There are different methods for dealing with different situations, and not all
are nice and clean. Just when they were starting to become friends, the conflict
between mom and stepmom continues...
The director knows how to bring out the tears, certainly. He gushes up every
emotional moment, so that we have no choice but to empathize with the
characters. Thankfully, he ends the movie at Christmas when Jackie is sick, but
still alive. She spends tender moments with each of her children, and finally
accepts Isabel into the family. The entire film was tender, emotional. Emotions
were never far from the surface in each character, and this was portrayed
beautifully. Jackie was finally able to pass the torch to Isabel, however, and
they discussed exactly this in a cordial manner. We can see that she has brought
her children up in a very responsible manner, such that they don't have any
complaints (until the divorce, at least). The children are best friends with
their mother, and it shows. This movie could have been called "mom" instead of
Stepmom, because it was really "mom" who shone. Truly enjoyable.
January 26th, 1999 in the Theatre
Such a touching movie,
with superb acting, directing by Chris Columbus, and writing. The
teenage and eight year old dialogue could have been taken directly from
a schoolyard or home that was affected by divorce. The movie was
so lifelike it was incredible. There was not a dry eye in the
place by the end of it.