How to Make an American Quilt (1995)

With apologies to author and talk-show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger, a 
better title for this movie might be SEVEN WOMEN WHO DO STUPID THINGS 

Winona Ryder stars as "Finn," a Berkeley grad student who is spending the
summer with her grandmother (Ellen Burstyn) and great aunt (Anne
Bancroft).  She's taking a break from her boyfriend-turned-fiance, because
she's scared, and because she finally wants to finish her thesis. 
Grandma's house is also the longtime home of a quilting bee, made up of
seven women who have all suffered from the tragedies of love.  Or, at the
very least, from the results of bad decision-making.  They each have a
story to tell and they do.  So much, in fact, that poor Winona and her
character's fear of commitment are practically lost in the shuffle. 

As a naysayer`s portrait of marriage, this spring's MIAMI RHAPSODY was
much funnier.  Sarah Jessica Parker as a bubbly neurotic beats an angst-
ridden Winona any day of the week.  Part of the problem is the actress;
Ms. Ryder still looks like she's in high school and it's a stretch to
think of her thinking such serious thoughts.  (Which she really doesn't.
The story allows virtually no examination of her character's feelings
about engagement or marriage.  Instead, the plot provides a silly stud-boy
for "Finn" to be distracted by.)

HOW TO MAKE AN AMERICAN QUILT is a "chick flick" that many may embrace
wholeheartedly.  The story shoots for anecdotal appeal and, in some ways,
succeeds gracefully.  Who can fault the flawless chemistry between Burstyn
and Bancroft?  Or the relaxed pace that so well suits the, uh, patchwork
narrative?  Or the unusual supporting cast that includes everyone from Rip
Torn to Ester Rolle to legendary poet Maya Angelou?  Go with the flow and
you're fine.  (At least until the hokey final reel, which starts with a
stormy, weather-related metaphor, continues with a character-by-character
recap of each woman's story, and finally ends with fair Winona-- wrapped
in a quilt, no less!-- following a crow into an orange grove.  Hilarious!)

Stand back to think about the movie's message and reasonable doubt comes
into play.  A woman who sleeps with her sister's husband.  Another wife
who accepts her husband's philandering.  Another wife-turned-widow who
answers her grief with an affair.  And so on and so on.  How can we view
these characters as anything other than failures?  When we turn to Winona,
with an optimistic look toward youth and the future, we find *her*
character in the arms (and more!) of another man, because she's too afraid
to face her own feelings!  [Insert head shaking.]

To the credit of all parties involved, HOW TO MAKE AN AMERICAN QUILT is no
less honest than Clint Eastwood's well-received BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. 
Both are warm, well-acted features that return plenty for anyone willing
to just "go with flow."  And what more does a movie ask, these days, than
mere physical attendance?  Go with flow, Sheldon, and you're fine.  Stop,
look, and listen... and you may come away with a different opinion. 

Grade: C+

Copyright 1995 by Michael J. Legeros 

Originally posted to triangle.movies

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