Picks and Pans Review: Crooked Hearts

updated 09/23/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/23/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Pete Berg, Juliette Lewis

Concentrate on the parts of this film that focus on the emotional travails of a hyperfunctional Tacoma, Wash., family. A bizarro-world version of Father Knows Best, with a dad who hosts sarcastic celebrations of his children's failures, these sequences offer an affecting look at how hard it can be for people to love each other.

The family is beautifully acted by Peter Coyote and Cindy Pickett as the parents, and Berg, Lewis and Vincent D'Onofrio as their children. But director-writer Michael Bortman (he wrote The Good Mother) burdens the last third of the movie with big-deal events.

D'Onofrio broods and flares effectively as the eldest sibling. Coyote deftly plays the well-meaning father. But Berg, the brother who drops out of college, and Lewis, the frightened young daughter, are exceptional. (Jennifer Jason Leigh, a young woman pathologically suspicious of men, makes a good match for Berg.)

Bortman nicely paces revelations of unrest under the happy family surface. It's puzzling when D'Onofrio tells Berg, "You're not going to get away by hating. You'll end up with the whole family strangling you from inside of your own head." Soon, though, the interlocking frustrations are all too clear. That kind of trouble is distress enough without the oh-come-on events that bog down the film's climax. (R)

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