AMY AND ISABELLE
US, 2001, 95 minutes, Colour.
Elizabeth Shue, Hannah Hall, Martin Donovan, James Rebhorn, Conchata Ferrell, Amy Wright.
Directed by Lloyd Kramer.
Amy and Isabelle was executive-produced by Oprah Winfrey. Based on a novel by Elizabeth Straut, it is the type of film with issues promoted by the Oprah Winfrey show: single mother, rebellious teenage daughter, teacher crossing the bounds, clashes between parents, hidden secrets and the revelation of the truth?
The setting is 1971 in a mill town in middle America. Elizabeth Shue portrays a rather dowdy single mother, claiming to be a widow, working in the mill, keeping aloof from her fellow workers, reading novels, but with an admiration for her boss. She also participates in church gatherings. Her teenage daughter lives with her and she keeps a control over her. She is quite censorious in her judgments on other people's family difficulties, commenting that what is sown is what is reaped. She has to come to a true awareness of the real world via her daughter who begins a liaison with the maths teacher (Martin Donovan). She is able to stop the liaison. The teacher leaves town. However, the tension remains between mother and daughter until a close friend at work is abandoned by her husband and she takes her in. The support of her friends from work enable her to tell the truth about her own life. She is able to feel free, not be ashamed, relate once again to her daughter and take her to see the family that she has not known.
Elizabeth Shue, a strong juvenile star in such films as Back to the Future and Adventures in Babysitting, moved to adult roles in such films as The Hollow Man, The Saint. Though still young, she acquits herself well in the role of the mother of a teenage daughter. Hannah Hall is very good as the silent and surly daughter. Martin Donovan specialises in this kind of role as a teacher having designs on his students. Conchata Ferrell is very good as the earth mother who facilitations a transformation of the main characters.
1. The appeal of this kind of film? Television movie? The endorsement of Oprah Winfrey?
2. The 1971 settings, the mining town, the contaminated river and its smell, the passing seasons, the oppressive heat and humidity in summer? The re-creation of the period, costumes and décor, cars, the atmosphere of the times? Musical score?
3. The title and its focus on mother and daughter, their relationship, love and tensions?
4. The voice-over by Isabelle, her comment on what was happening, her perceptions of her daughter, the situations in the town, her work? Her own life? The crisis, her censorious judgments, her having to change them? The final comments about her new sense of freedom after telling the truth and revealing the secrets to her daughter?
5. Elizabeth Shue as Isabelle, her appearance, pulled-back hair, no make-up, dowdy clothes, working away from the others at the table, her devotion to Avery, his putting her in charge? Getting the job for Amy at the mill? At home, everything precise, genteel, her reading Madame Bovary, her expectations of good manners? Her going to the church meetings and discussing flower arrangements? Her attitude towards school? At home with Amy? The discovery of the truth, Avery telling his wife, the people at the church ignoring her? Her being hurt, angry with Amy, Amy's confrontation? The fight? Her going to see Peter Robertson, ordering him away? The time passing, the oppressive season? The women at work and their chatter, Dottie and the UFO, her operation? Her return to work, her husband cheating on her? The time passing, her cutting off her daughter's hair? Amy and her finding the corpse, Isabelle's sensitivity, helping her? The phone call, Beth bringing Dottie, her taking Dottie in? The discussion, her telling them the truth about her life, her parents, her father's death, her father's best friend, the seduction and her knowingly consenting, her not ever thinking of his wife and her hurt? The baby, her mother's death out of strain, moving to Shirley Falls, pretending she was a widow, buying the ring? Covering up, her shame, never telling her daughter? Her comforting Dottie, the infidelity of Dottie's husband enabling her to understand and sympathise with Evelyn? Telling Amy, the writing of the letter, the delay because of Evelyn being in hospital, the invitation to the christening, mother and daughter going together to find the new family? A rounded portrait of this young woman?
6. Amy, not having any background knowledge of her family, her grandparents? At home, her mother's precision? Sitting at work? At school, her friendship with Stacey? Stacey's pregnancy, her mother finally urging her to go and see Stacey in hospital? Their final discussions? Amy at school, the attraction towards Peter Robertson, his classes, her cheekiness, engineering to be staying back, giving her a lift, her kiss, his seduction, her willingness? In the car, his asking her to take her clothes off, her willingly doing this? Her being seen, her mother's anger, her reaction, her mother cutting off her hair? At work, their not talking? The finding of the body? Her resisting Paul? Her motivation? The upset about the corpse, at home, her mother telling her the truth? Her mother taking her to have her hair cut and styled, the make-up? The contact with Evelyn, her looking forward to seeing her half-sisters? A rounded portrait of the rites of passage of a young girl?
7. Stacey, the contrast with Amy, their discussions at lunchtime, Stacey going with Paul, Paul and his character, her pregnancy? Paul picking Amy up and making advances on her? Stacey and her bitterness?
8. The women at work, their chatter, their personalities, their joking together? Beth as the kind of earth mother, her friendship with Dottie, Dottie's operation, talking about the UFO, the possibility of a dream? Her husband's infidelity, claiming that they were friends? His leaving her, Beth taking her to Isabelle's house, staying the night, the morning after and their talking, the facilitating of telling the truth? Beth embracing both Isabelle and Amy?
9. Peter Robertson, supply teacher, separation from his wife, the enthusiasm of his classes, talking with the students, his interest in Amy, commenting on her hair, giving her a lift home after the detention? Her advances, his advances? His asking her to take her clothes off, perform the sex actions, his being a coward, the confrontation by Isabelle and his leaving town? Amy's phone calls and his declining them?
10. Avery, the boss, Isabelle and her liking for him, the touch of infatuation? His work, with the women, putting Isabelle in charge? Avery and Anne, the socials, their not coming by for the dessert on the Saturday night? The women at the church meetings, shunning Isabelle?
11. The flashbacks, the sketch of Isabelle's parents, the death of her father, her loneliness for her mother, her mother's helping her during the pregnancy, communicating with Evelyn, her death?
12. The social themes, the small town, single mothers, callous men, seduction and abuse of young children, coping, secrets and lies?