Picks and Pans Review: How to Make An American Quilt

updated 10/16/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/16/1995 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Winona Ryder, Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn, Kate Nelligan, Alfre Woodard

By the end of this movie, the woman beside me was crying. So was the woman next to her. The woman on the other side of me wasn't crying, but she was sniffling mighty hard. I was dry-eyed. What can I say? American Quilt didn't do it for me, but it obviously got the ducts in my row.

How you react to this episodic tale of female fortitude will depend less on how you feel about quilting—a great American art form, I hold—than on how susceptible you are to movies in which women characters suffer, suffer and then suffer some more, all for love. Here, seven members of a contemporary quilting group in rural California tell their stories of romance and heartache, complete with flashbacks, to a wavering prospective bride (Ryder) for whom they are piecing together a wedding gift. Early on, Ryder asks, "How do you merge into this thing called a couple and still keep a little part of yourself?" As each quilter unspools her story (one tolerates a philandering husband, another discovers that her spouse has slept with her sister, etc.), it becomes evident that the quilt of love is a mix-and-match of different pieces that needs care and luck to last a lifetime.

Although in structure American Quilt resembles the 1993 weeper The Joy Luck Club, the stories here fail to resonate as strongly; and the whole, as directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse (Proof), seems more than a touch precious. (Do you really want to see Burstyn and Bancroft, as women in their golden years, placidly puffing away on a joint?) Of the talented cast, only Nelligan, all acerbic crackle and hidden hurt as a widow who is sleeping with another member's husband, creates a character you can believe. (PG-13)

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