×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Bastard Out of Carolina

An absorbing, sometimes wrenching tale of growing up poor and abused in the 1950s South, "Bastard Out of Carolina" is a handsome, thoughtful picture that may benefit from Ted Turner's refusal to air it on TNT. Turner's decision presents an opportunity to some enterprising distrib, because the pic is a quality item earmarked for serious auds by its nonexploitative handling of potent material, the strong work of debuting helmer Anjelica Huston and striking perfs from young newcomer Jena Malone, Jennifer Jason Leigh and others. Good reviews and sensitive handling should help establish "Bastard's" legitimacy on the arthouse circuit and abroad.

With:
Anney ... Jennifer Jason Leigh Glen ... Ron Eldard Bone ... Jena Malone Ruth ... Glenne Headly Wade ... Lyle Lovett Lyle ... Dermot Mulroney Dee Dee ... Christina Ricci Earle ... Michael Rooker Raylene ... Diana Scarwid Alma ...Susan Traylor Granny ... Grace Zabriskie

An absorbing, sometimes wrenching tale of growing up poor and abused in the 1950s South, “Bastard Out of Carolina” is a handsome, thoughtful picture that may benefit from Ted Turner’s refusal to air it on TNT. Turner’s decision presents an opportunity to some enterprising distrib, because the pic is a quality item earmarked for serious auds by its nonexploitative handling of potent material, the strong work of debuting helmer Anjelica Huston and striking perfs from young newcomer Jena Malone, Jennifer Jason Leigh and others. Good reviews and sensitive handling should help establish “Bastard’s” legitimacy on the arthouse circuit and abroad.

This movie handles its tricky subject matter — which includes an account of child battery and rape — with just the right blend of tact and truthfulness. Despite the key events that account for tale’s notoriety, Huston’s pic, like the acclaimed Dorothy Allison novel on which it is based, concerns much besides child abuse. Set in Greenville, S.C. (though filmed in Wilmington, N.C.), not long after WWII, story looks behind “Tobacco Road” cliches to evoke the complex weave of love, hardship and family bonds that conditioned the life of poor whites in the days before New South prosperity kicked in.

The pic opens with a narrator (voiced by Laura Dern) recalling that she was born after her single mom, Anney (Jennifer Jason Leigh), was hurled through a car windshield during an accident. An uncle nicknamed the newborn Bone, and the county declared her illegitimate, beginning a long obsession with that label on the part of both Anney and her daughter.

With Bone still a tyke, Anney meets and weds Lyle (Dermot Mulroney), a sweet-tempered sort who gives her a second daughter before expiring in a freak auto mishap. Working as a waitress and aided by the presence of her large extended family, the young widow is still eager enough for love that she eventually succumbs to the earnest courting of Glen (Ron Eldard), a laborer she marries despite hints that he’s shifty and possessed of a nasty temper.

Bone (Malone) and Glen are subtly at odds from the outset. But it’s not until Anney loses the son she’s carrying, and is declared unable to have more children, that the man starts looking for a punching bag. Bone is the nearest target. At first, he spanks her as punishment and deviously wins Anney’s acquiescence. Soon the beatings are regular, secret and sadistic. Even when their discovery causes Anney’s male relatives to whale the daylights out of Glen as a warning, the respite proves only temporary.

Anney reacts by leaving Glen, but eventually she returns. She’s torn between two kinds of love, and her inability to reconcile them sets the stage for the horrific event that climaxes the tale and prompts Bone to reject her mother. While the gist here is, of course, mostly disturbing and sad, there’s an implication of victory in the fact that Bone survives — and tells her story.

Anne Meredith’s script preserves the key ingredients of Allison’s tale while skillfully imposing dramatic structure and economy. Its one drawback — a minor one — lies in not making more use of the novel’s pungent humor.

Meredith’s work provides Huston a solid basis for several achievements, most notably the film’s extremely sensitive handling of violent and sexual content. It deserves to be stressed that “Bastard” is a model of intelligent dramatization in this regard. While these scenes are not for the faint of heart, neither are they protracted or heavy-handed.

Helmer also deserves credit for eliciting pic’s numerous fine perfs, including the enormously impressive work of Malone, a native Nevadan who not only sports a dead-on Southern accent but also carries the drama.

Leigh’s work proves so ingratiating because it has none of the caricatured elements of some of her recent perfs; here she shines in a relatively normal part that recalls her very real talents.

Several supporting players make vivid contributions, including Glenne Headly, Michael Rooker, Susan Traylor and Diana Scarwid as Anney’s relatives. And though Eldard, as Glen, has a game go at a tough part, he’s a bit too lightweight and conventionally good-looking to offer the dark idiosyncrasy the part needs.

Other pluses are Van Dyke Parks’ subtly atmospheric score and Nelson Coates’ rustic production design. Anthony B. Richmond’s warm lensing leads the list of other solid tech credits.

Bastard Out of Carolina

Production: A Gary Hoffman production. Produced by Hoffman. TX:Directed by Anjelica Huston. Screenplay, Anne Meredith, based on the novel by Dorothy Allison.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), Anthony B. Richmond; editor, Eva Gardos; music, Van Dyke Parks; production design, Nelson Coates; sound (Dolby), David Hankins. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 15, 1996. Running time: 97 min.

With: Anney ... Jennifer Jason Leigh Glen ... Ron Eldard Bone ... Jena Malone Ruth ... Glenne Headly Wade ... Lyle Lovett Lyle ... Dermot Mulroney Dee Dee ... Christina Ricci Earle ... Michael Rooker Raylene ... Diana Scarwid Alma ...Susan Traylor Granny ... Grace Zabriskie

More Film

  • Fox Searchlight logo

    Film News Roundup: Fox Searchlight Launches Searchlight Shorts

    In today’s film news roundup, Fox Searchlight starts a shorts channel, Uma Thurman signs with ICM and Miramax signs animation exec Michael Lachance. SEARCHLIGHT SHORTS More Reviews Off Broadway Review: John Guare's 'Nantucket Sleigh Ride' Concert Review: Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets Dishes Up Seminal Pink Floyd Delights Fox Searchlight Pictures’ chairmen Nancy Utley and [...]

  • ImMature - cr: MX Player

    Indian Streamers Ramp up Original Productions

    Ever since global streaming giants Amazon Prime Video and Netflix entered the Indian OTT space in 2016, the conversation around original series has mostly revolved around them, thanks in part to market leader 21st Century Fox’s Hotstar’s circumspect attitude at the time about producing content. Netflix had great success with “Sacred Games,” while Amazon rode [...]

  • WGA Agents Contract Tug of War

    Hollywood Agents, Writers Guild Make Little Progress in Talks

    Leaders of Hollywood agencies and the Writers Guild of America made little progress in Tuesday meeting to negotiate proposed rule revisions to how agents represent writers. The WGA said after the meeting — the fifth since Feb. 5 — that talks would resume later this week but did not give a specific day. More Reviews [...]

  • Village Rockstars

    Female Filmmakers Are a Growing Voice in India

    The Indian film industry has historically been a male-dominated one, but the winds of change are blowing across the country, albeit slowly. Better-served than the rest of the country is the Mumbai-based Hindi-language industry, where there are several active female filmmakers including Zoya Akhtar (“Gully Boy”), Reema Kagti (“Gold”), Leena Yadav (“Rajma Chawal”), Gauri Shinde [...]

  • Florence Pugh

    Scarlett Johansson's 'Black Widow' Movie Adds Florence Pugh

    “Black Widow’s” web may soon be growing. Sources tell Variety that Florence Pugh is in talks to join Scarlett Johansson’s standalone superhero film. More Reviews Off Broadway Review: John Guare's 'Nantucket Sleigh Ride' Concert Review: Nick Mason's Saucerful of Secrets Dishes Up Seminal Pink Floyd Delights Pugh has been on the hot list for this [...]

  • Mira Lesmana Sets up Indonesia Remake

    Mira Lesmana Sets Up Indonesian Remake of CJ's 'Sunny'

    Indonesia’s Miles Film and Korea’s CJ Entertainment are to co-produce an Indonesian remake of Korean hit “Sunny.” The film is a female-driven dramedy about a group of adult friends who reunite 20 years after high school. Directed by Kang Hyoung-chul, “Sunny” was one of the highest-grossing movies in Korea when it was released in 2011. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content