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In praise of Joan Allen

Posted at 5:09 PM on February 28, 2006 by Euan Kerr

Having initially decided to go out and take in "Capote" last Saturday night, my beloved and I wimped out and decided to flake in front of the DVD player. She had picked up "Off the Map" at the local video emporium. I am really glad she did.

It's a sweet story about a family living off the land in the New Mexico desert, who get audited. It doesn't sound like a promising premise. But the cast pulls it off. Led by Joan Allen and Sam Elliot as the parents of a precocious 11 year old girl called Bo, they create a fascinating little world that draws in an outsider, whether it be the IRS auditor or just someone watching the film.

Two things stick out. It's rare, even in these enlightened times, that a man cries on screen. It's even rarer that a male character cries almost continuously through an entire movie. In "Off the Map", that is exactly what Sam Elliot does as the profoundly depressed Charley. It's fascinating in a car-wreck kind of way.

Yet the movie really revolves round the steady gaze of Joan Allen. As the hippy mother Arlene, who relieves her stress from dealing with her husband's illness by weeding the garden naked. She somehow seems to carry the wisdom of the ages with childish innocence and wonder.

Allen is one of those veteran actors who now seems to just get better with every new role. She's been Pat Nixon in "Nixon," a raging alcoholic in "The Upside of Anger," and a liberated black and white TV mom in "Pleasantville."

She is also prepared to take risks, as she did in Sally Potter's "Yes." There she played an Irish-American woman torn between her husband and her middle-eastern lover. The movie was designed as a response to the 9/11 attacks, looking at ways love can diffuse hate. What really caught the attention of the critics, and frankly annoyed the heck out of a lot of them was how the script was written and delivered in iambic pentameter. I found it quite beautiful.

I see a film she shot with Billy Connelly called "Good Sharma" is in post-production at the moment. I am really looking forward to that pairing.

February 2006
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