One True Thing
Cast: Meryl Streep, Renee Zellweger, William Hurt, Tom Everett Scott, Lauren Graham
Writer: Karen Croner; screenplay based on the novel by Anna Quindlen
Director: Carl Franklin
Premiered: 1998; available on DVD
Speaking of the value to the economy of a full-time wife (see The Support Economy, LifeCare), One True Thing wraps that message inside the exploration of a family dealing with its own myths and the terminal illness of its mostly unacknowledged core member. By developing the conflicts inherent in its premise, this movie leads to a surprising and touching conclusion.
Whether or not you've read the novel on which the film is based, the film itself will hold your attention, especially if you've ever encountered any kind of family conflict over roles and responsibilities. The excellent performances of this stellar cast carry the story of how we learn grown-up things about our parents and, with any luck, leave our childhoods behind, despite how painful that instruction may be.
The movie uses flashbacks to show us various family relationships (mother-daughter, mother-father, father-daughter) and frames a sort of mystery that doesn't reveal itself until the very end. The mystery may simply be a plot device that does or doesn't work for you, but it also suggests the many hidden dimensions of this family and the shifting relationships within it.
We're shown the invisibility of a full-time mom, the pecadillos of a distant but adored father, and the struggle of the Harvard-educated daughter who learns things she may not want to know about her parents.
Ultimately, the family as a whole is forced to deal with a crisis that both changes and renews everything within it. The story may be as old as time, but this particular exploration of it offers an interesting view into our all-too-human foibles.