Writer Mary Agnes Donoghue debuts as a film director with her careful adaptation of a 1987 French drama Le grand chemin [written and directed by Jean-Loup Hubert]. Story focuses on 10-year-old Elijah Wood, sent by his pregnant mom (Eve Gordon) to spend a school vacation in the sleepy town of Paradise. Melanie Griffith and husband Don Johnson, who are mysteriously cold to each other, take care of the boy. There’s a third reel revelation that the death of their three-year-old son in 1987 has driven a wedge between them.
The boy is befriended by nine-year-old Thora Birch, and film gently follows their pranks and adventures in an idyllic natural setting. Duo have in common the absence of a father; Wood’s is supposedly away at sea while Birch’s is a roller-skating instructor in a nearby town.
Donoghue shows impressive self-assurance for a first-time helmer in not rushing the pace or overdoing the maudlin elements of this material. Birch is irresistible as the wise little girl, whose gestures and body language are a treat throughout the picture. Wood underplays and is very natural.
Johnson and Griffith co-star for the first time with effective overtones of a longstanding off-screen relationship (married twice). Both are deglamorized for their character roles and are convincing as a rustic, unsophisticated couple.