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With: Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern, Ellary Porterfield
Written by: Jane Anderson, based on the book by Terry Ryan
Directed by: Jane Anderson
MPAA Rating: PG-13 thematic elements, some disturbing images and language
Running Time: 99
Date: 09/28/2005

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (2005)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

How the Contest Was Won

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Screenwriter and TV director Jane Anderson (It Could Happen to You, How to Make an American Quilt) makes her feature directorial debut with this sparkling adaptation of her friend Terry Ryan's memoir. With a drunken dad, Kelly (Woody Harrelson), always spending the family's scant savings, it's up to clever mom Evelyn (Julianne Moore) to supplement the income by entering poetry and jingle-writing contests. Anderson keeps the tone light, even when dealing with Kelly's depressed confusion, and illustrates her movie with lots of animated baubles, postmodern asides and black-and-white sidebars. There's not much story; every time the family is about to lose the house, mom saves the day with a shopping spree or a surprise check. It will be hard, also, not to think of Moore in her other two recent roles as 1950s housewives (Far from Heaven and The Hours), but she does another remarkable job here, up until and including a climactic blow-up. Ellary Porterfield portrays the author as a teenager, and she has a magnetic presence, sharing a few good scenes with Moore. Harrelson has the really tough job, though, conveying Kelly's frustration at not quite living up to his family's needs. The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio is ultimately a trifle, but an enjoyable one.

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