I would never have heard of this movie if Sean and Sara Watkins (of Nickel Creek) hadn’t been involved in the soundtrack. Hearing that they played on it, I resolved to rent the movie when it came out, and then forgot about it until recently when I got it through Netflix. The subtitle is: How My Mother Raised Ten Children on Twenty-five Words or Less. The mother, played by Julianne Moore, has a knack for words and jingles and turns her talent to winning prizes that keep her family afloat.
Early on, the movie educates viewers about this old-fashioned marketing technique because younger viewers may not be familiar with it. Advertisers in the 50’s and 60’s challenged consumers to write the best description of a certain product’s benefits “in twenty-five words or less,” or to write the best slogan or jingle, for a nice cash or product prize. I definitely remember wanting to send in entries of “twenty-five words or less” written in “block letters” for offers advertised on cereal boxes. (“Daddy, what are block letters?”)
But the other anachronism in the story is the woman’s response to being married to an alcoholic husband who drinks up the paycheck, and goes into fearful rages when drunk. My immediate reaction was, “Give him an ultimatum: grow up, get help or get out!” But you didn’t do that in those days. For better or worse, you coped. And in this memoir–for at the end we learn it is a true life memoir written by one of the ten children–the mother’s coping is the emotional center of the film.
In an amazing performance OF an amazing performance, we see her meet her circumstances with determined–but never false–cheerfulness and poise–and as the film progresses we see glimpses of what might be fueling that–at first it seems to come from a wry self-awareness–she is not blind to the irony that her hidden talents keep the family going while culturally speaking, she’s powerless. Later we see a deeper something–a tenacious belief in the gift contained in the moment.
The film doesn’t turn a blind eye to the father’s problem or to how it affects the family, and we see that the mother sees it too. She’s not getting by on “denial”. She protects her children as best she can. As she gets older, a teenaged daughter in the family at last gives voice to the more modern-day view of things–this man is inconsiderate, difficult and holding her back–why in the world does she tolerate him? I don’t remember the answer the mother gives, I just remember the scene–the love and the dignity conveyed in the scene.
It’s a good movie, you might want to check it out.