Picks and Pans Review: Songcatcher

UPDATED 06/25/2001 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 06/25/2001 at 01:00 AM EDT

Janet McTeer, Aidan Quinn, Jane Adams, Pat Carroll

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If the mountain music in O Brother, Where Art Thou? set moviegoers to tapping their toes, Songcatcher will have audiences humming. Although Ethan and Joel Coen's comic fable and this period romantic drama could hardly be more different in style and tone, the transcendent power of song informs both.

Songcatcher sensitively follows the journey of self-discovery made by Dr. Lily Penleric (McTeer), a university-trained musicologist who travels deep into the Appalachian mountains in 1907 to visit her schoolteacher sister. There she is surprised to learn that the insular locals still sing old English and Scottish ballads, just as their forebears did 200 years ago. Initially, Lily's excitement is scholarly, but as she grows close to the mountain folk and learns their hard-scrabble ways—and as she becomes involved with a handsome banjo-picking moonshiner (Quinn)—she comes to see that music, as she puts it, is "as much a part of life here as the air you breathe."

Songcatcher gets a mite melodramatic later on, but director-writer Maggie Greenwald (The Ballad of Little Jo) has made a lyrical, thoughtful movie that's blessed with astute performances by McTeer (Tumbleweeds) and Quinn. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Mellifluous

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