Picks and Pans Review: 1918

updated 04/29/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/29/1985 AT 01:00 AM EDT

You can't help rooting for this small, spare movie At first glance the subject seems like box-office suicide: A small-town Texas family copes with a world at war and an influenza epidemic that killed more Americans than died in battle. Try selling that to the Porky's Revenge crowd. The main attraction for a young audience is the presence of Matthew (Ladyhawke) Broderick, currently the toast of Broadway in Biloxi Blues. Broderick is both funny and touching as a teenager who says he's eager to fight in Europe but who gets homesick if he travels as far as Galveston. But his role is basically a supporting one. Nothing about 1918 smacks of a star vehicle. The film is a family affair. Two-time Oscar winner Horton (To Kill A Mockingbird, Tender Mercies) Foote wrote the screenplay (part of a cycle of nine Texas plays he began in the late 1970s). One of them, Valentine's Day, marked Matthew Broderick's stage debut in 1979. He co-starred in that production with his late father, James, and dedicates his performance in 1918 to him. Foote is writing about his own family, Texas pioneers who helped settle the state and build its character. Filmed in Waxahachie, Texas (as was Places in the Heart), this is clearly a labor of love. To make it more so, Foote's wife, Lillian, is one of 1918's producers. Son Horton Jr. and daughter Daisy serve as production assistants. And daughter Hallie (Angelo, My Love) Foote has the pivotal role of, a young Texas wife (based on her grandmother) who loses her baby and almost her husband to the flu. Her performance is a triumph of strength and sensitivity. Hallie Foote plays a woman whose parents (sharply defined by Rochelle Oliver and Michael Higgins) have brought her up not to give vent to her emotions and doubts. Even her husband (William Converse Roberts) cannot express his own fears about leaving his family to go to war—it would lead to public disgrace. Foote does nothing to dramatize these characters or their situation. "It's just how I write," he says. "I'm not against jazzing things up, I just don't know anything about it." There are no bloody death scenes (the carnage is only talked about), no special-effects tornadoes and no knuckle-wrenching monologues. What Foote delivers are real people coping with the worst that life has to offer and carrying on. Arid realism to some. But those who are weary of hyped-up teen sex comedies will find 1918 an authentic piece of Americana. (PG)

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