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Anywhere but Here: 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
Stealing Beauty: Critics were decidedly mixed about this 1996 drama from Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci, and the movie enjoyed only a brief theatrical release. Now it's best known for its early appearance by Liv Tyler as a 19-year-old beauty named Lucy who summers at a villa in Tuscany with a variety of artistic types who immediately respond to her inspirational innocence. An amateur poet who has decided it's time to lose her virginity, Lucy has come to Italy after the death of her mother, who visited this artist's refuge 20 years earlier. Several young Italian men find Lucy quite heavenly (she is, after all, Liv Tyler), and she's not immune to their attentions, but she'd rather spend time with a playwright (Jeremy Irons) who is dying of AIDS and therefore has something other than sex on his mind. The movie's plot is about as substantial as Tyler's character (she's sexy, all right, but hardly an intellectual muse), but Stealing Beauty creates a serene mood that's so soothing you'll want to book a flight to Tuscany immediately, just to soak up the setting's idyllic atmosphere. If you're in the right frame of mind, this movie is like a balm for the soul, and Tyler and Bertolucci can share the credit for making this two-hour vacation so charmingly relaxing. --Jeff Shannon