They haven't spent money on the sets, the dresses, the make-up or the locations. There are no special effects either. So what is this movie, that has been adapted by director Wayne Wang from Mona Simpson's highly acclaimed novel, about then? It traces the lives of mother and daughter (Adele and Ann August), played by Sarandon and Portman respectively, over three years. It all begins with them leaving Wisconsin and arriving at Los Angeles - the Beverly Hills district, no less - to make a life for themselves.
Ann is reluctant to move away from her home, and she misses her family; she also feels hurt and torn at being forced to do something she doesn't want to, or more correctly, do something that her mother wants to. Their relationship starts out on the wrong foot. But as time passes, L.A. grows on this pair and they pull through several little trials to arrive where they do at the end of the movie.
The typical American mother-daughter ties have been poignantly portrayed here. Sarandon has maintained herself well and she plays the role of confused, struggling, yet determined, Mrs. Adele August to Portman's Ann very convincingly. Portman herself has excellent screen presence. Her style is riveting and is a breather from the stereotypical depiction of snotty, oversmart American pubescents. Clearly, I'm not the only one who thinks that way, as Natalie Portman did get nominated for Best Supporting Actress at the 1999 Golden Globe Awards.
Look out for the policeman in this movie, who catches Adele twice at bad driving and, instead of booking her, does something that really brings the warring mother and daughter closer together.
One is treated to humour at opportune moments, as well as a well-knit insight into the psyche of a middle-aged woman who refuses to give up her tad unrealistic dreams - and the effect such a personality has on a more stable teenage girl who is her daughter.
A warning: ladies, take a handkerchief along to dry those tears!This article was first published on 24 Apr 2000.