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The Whole Wide World (1996)

Directed by Dan Ireland

The Whole Wide World (1996) -- movie night out

Okay, I'm going to ditch any pretense to sensitivity (like I had any to begin with), put my Doc Martins on, and stomp the living shit outta this overrated art film... you know, there's nothing better than an intimate story with a few interesting, three dimensional characters that foregoes the usual melodrama for small moments that have the compelling ring of truth. That's exactly what this biopic wanted to be but so fucking wasn't! It's really the cinema equivalent of torture.

It's about Robert E. Howard, the creator of "Conan the Barbarian" (an excellent John Milius film, by the way), told from the viewpoint of an ex-gal pal, Novalyne Price, and it's a broken record. The irony here is that this is just the kind of dry, sensitive drivel that Robert E. Howard would have loathed. As a biography, the style strikes me as being really, really wrong. Howard was a man who saw the barbarians, not the Romans who looked to crush their freedom, as the heroes. Kewpie doll Renee Zellweger plays the spunky Novalyne (has anyone ever seen Renee Zellweger, singer Jewel and Joey Lauren Adams together? I didn't think so) who is a writer and teacher who falls for the eccentric but talented Howard. The galootish Vincent D'Onofrio's portrayal of Howard had me looking for the big jug of hooch in his clumsy mitts. There wasn't, leaving me guessing: was Robert E. Howard a raging alcoholic, or is Vincent D'Onofrio? Anyway, Howard is by turns painfully shy and inept, then overbearing and obnoxious. All the local hayseeds look down on him and his sleazy pulp novels. They are also scandalized by his interest in pencil sketches of nude women. Novalyne looks past his oafishness and sees an imaginative and talented writer. A major roadblock to their budding relationship is Howard's frail but domineering mom. Their Oedipal relationship is merely hinted at, much like Howard's alcoholism.

Perhaps "The Whole Wide World" got caught up in hero worship and wanted to obscure the facts, but the picture they do paint of a self-destructive man who both idolizes, and at the same time, is terrified of women is hardly flattering. The entire movie consists of scene after scene of Novalyne coming to the realization (again and again) that Howard is incapable of having a normal relationship with her. Instead of being sad and poignant, it's told in a tedious, roundabout fashion. This is a great example of the kind of touchy-feely film that actors love to be in, which means it's not really a movie -- it's a play! So, boil up a pot of Earl Grey, turn off PBS, and enjoy the snooze-fest! -- Rating: $0.50

Tom Graney -- copyright Hollywood Outsider 1997

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