Picks and Pans Review: One True Thing

updated 09/28/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/28/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Meryl Streep, Renée Zellweger, William Hurt

Featured attraction

Dying of an extended illness is never easy, either for the patients or those around them. Playing a 47-year-old housewife who is losing a battle with cancer in One True Thing, Streep nails perfectly the querulousness that comes with serious illness. Weakened by pain, unable to perform everyday tasks and dependent upon others, she is often irritable with those she loves the most, especially when they treat her more like a patient than a person. "I'm still a mother," she snaps at her oversolicitous daughter (Zellweger), who has reluctantly given up a hotshot reporter's job in Manhattan to come home and take care of Mom.

Their imperfect mother-daughter relationship is at the center of, and the main reason to see, One True Thing, a perceptive and extremely well-acted drama based on Anna Quindlen's 1995 novel of the same name. Early on, Streep flutters about as a suburban über-mom, whipping up perfect meals, putting up holiday decorations and keeping life running smoothly for her husband (Hurt), a pompous professor of English literature. None of this impresses Zellweger, though she will come to see, during the course of Streep's illness, that she has for years valued her mother too little and her father possibly too much. True shows that as difficult as drawn-out death may be, its very length affords the time to say goodbye, to say whatever else has to be said, and for a grown child to come to a better understanding of just who her mother really is and, as importantly, isn't.

Much of the territory covered in One True Thing is familiar from countless TV movies, but director Carl Franklin (Devil in a Blue Dress) probes more deeply, particularly the conflict between stay-at-home moms and working daughters. Minor complaint: True goes on for a little too long. Twenty minutes before Streep's breathing grows truly labored, you'll be saying, "Die, already." (PG-13)

Bottom Line: The perfect movie if you want, for whatever reason, just to sit in the dark and cry

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