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Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio

Published October 2, 2005 in Movie Reviews
By Kasey Schiedeck | Images property of Dreamworks Pictures
The Producers Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio
Once again we find Julianne Moore as a 1950's housewife, this time raising ten kids and one alcoholic husband in Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. Her family subsists almost entirely off of frequent contest winnings-contests that require a serious amount of clever creation for catchy commercial jingles. Moore plays Evelyn Ryan whose husband Kelly, played by Woody Harrelson in a believable toupee and makeshift beer belly, is a temperamental and verbally abusive drunk who brings home weekly paychecks in the form of booze from the local liquor store. Oddly enough, as Kelly points out, Evelyn is in fact "too damn happy," cherishing her time with her children and graciously cleaning up after her husband.

Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio Review

Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio was penned by writer-director Jane Anderson (Normal) and is based on the bestselling memoir by one of the Ryan children about her saintly mother. The film's sequence playfully mimics the very product commercials Evelyn's jingles represent in an amusing form that allows Evelyn and her fellow contesters to talk cheerfully to the camera in a perfect form of parallel structure. Brilliant art design also adds beauty and flair to the set.

Each attempt Evelyn makes to visit her "contest buddies" in Indiana (nearly 100 miles away) is promptly surrendered to familial obligation: there is rarely enough money to pay a weekly $3.00 milk tab; Kelly's drunkenness occurs nightly, often soliciting police involvement but ending with a cup of coffee and promises of improved behavior; and even better is a priest with "breath like daddy's" that advises Evelyn to "try a little harder." Still, Evelyn rises each morning and cooks, cleans, and cares for her children. Watching television at night, she writes ideas for her jingles down into her notebook until placing it aside and drifting off into much deserved sleep. Her refusal to have her family dismantled by circumstance is not denial as much as it is strength; Moore evokes a terrific sentiment of wisdom that keeps her character from appearing lost.

Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio
Moore presents what could very well be the performance of her career. She has already established herself as one of the few contemporary A-list actresses and she elicits a perfect range of defiance, caution, pain, and an all-embracing expression of true elation at the prospects of her seemingly dismal existence. Similarly, Harrelson evokes a convincing sense of irrational authority but also something more. Kelly has a compassionate streak within and Harrelson illustrates that sentiment flawlessly.

Defiance by form takes a different route than most modern movies and, in the capable hands of director Jane Anderson, sets about no frills or superfluities. The story is not about sex, drugs, violence, or romance; rather, it is about a mother's devotion to her children in unwavering regard.

DreamWorks Pictures
Director-screenwriter: Jane Anderson
Based on the memoir "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio: How My Mother Raised 10 Kids on 25 Words or Less" by: Terry Ryan
Evelyn Ryan: Julianne Moore
Kelly Ryan: Woody Harrelson
Tuff Ryan (ages 13, 16, 18): Ellary Porterfield
Dortha Schaefer: Laura Dern
Ray the Milkman: Simon Reynolds

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Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio

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Kasey Schiedeck
Sources: Images property of Dreamworks Pictures

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