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Finn is a young graduate student, finishing a master's thesis, and preparing for marriage to her fiance Sam. But thoughts of the end of the free life, and a potential summer fling, intrude. She goes home to her grandmother, where, over the making of her wedding gift by a group of quilting-bee friends, laughter, bickering, love, and advice lead her toward a more open-eyed examination of her course. Written by
Bruce Cameron <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I have spent many pleasant hours mocking "How To Make An American Quilt" to friends, but at this moment I want to play fair. I'm sure that there are many things to like about this movie and that somehow they escaped my notice. For me it was never more than a series of plot devices stitched together (ha ha) to form an unsatisfying story.
Winona Ryder is always a pleasure to watch. I've liked her better in more irreverent titles like "Beetlejuice" or "Heathers". Still, she wears earnestness well, and manages to make bearable the Poloniusesque quilt speech at end of the picture (see the quotes section).
The supporting players should be every bit as watchable (with several centuries of acting experience among them, they ought to be). I wish I'd been allowed to watch them act. Their function was to sit in front of the camera quilting and say a few words of introduction before the flashback--as if they were hosts of a documentary.
I want to pause for a moment over Maya Angelou's casting. It's always a tricky thing introducing a famous person from another discipline as an actor. I call it the "Hey, you're Kareem Abdul-Jabbar" problem (based on the scene from _Airplane_ where a kid recognizes the basketball player in the co-pilot's seat. The joke is in how much time he spends denying it). Maya Angelou has screen presence, but does nothing to dispel the problem. My dominant experience watching her was, "Wow, they got Maya Angelou, world famous poet!" Maybe this was the idea. Maybe the filmmakers felt her famous presence would, in itself, add depth to the proceedings, so why muddy it with anything as messy as an interesting character? Her appearance was less acting than promotion. Maya Angelou wouldn't appear in a dog, would she?
The plot reminds me of a line Robin Williams had about alcoholics, "You realize you're and alcoholic when you repeat yourself. You realize you're an alcoholic when you repeat yourself. You realize, oh dammit." Each woman's story follows a similar pattern. Girl meets boy, sleeps with boy, marries boy, boy leaves, boy comes back--each time unconvincingly (I wonder how far any guy has ever gotten with the opening line "You swim like a mermaid"). The Alfre Woodard story is the only variation, and as a result, the only interesting one among them.
And of course Winona Ryder's Finn has a similar problem. Does she marry Dermott Mulrooney or does she go off with the local stud muffin. I call him the local stud muffin because that's all he is. The actor who played him didn't convince me that there was anything under the perfect I-don't-have-to-work-out abs that would compel her to do more than roll in the field with him. He wasn't a character so much a plot device meant to set up an obvious choice. Handsome rogue or dependable architecht? Given the way the flashbacks ran, take a guess.
There are more scenes to pummel here. There's the thesis blowing away in the wind (she's the only grad student I've ever seen with no notes, no paperweight, and, since she was using a typewriter, no carbons), and there's her random meeting with the Stud Muffin (who just happened to be hanging out in the groves with a picnic basket and a blanket for her. I guess this was set before the advent of stalking laws), but it would take too long to mock them all. The real trouble with the movie is that it was so earnest, so desperate to convince the audience of its poetic depths, that it wound up shallow, unsatisfying, unconvincing and unintentionally funny.
Or, to put it another way--never have so many, who were so talented, worked on something so ordinary.
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