Picks and Pans Review: The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio

updated 10/10/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/10/2005 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson, Laura Dern

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It's the late 1950s, and Evelyn Ryan (Moore) is an Ohio housewife tending to 10 children and a husband (Harrelson) who drinks up most of his factory-job earnings. To keep her offspring fed and pay the milkman in this prefeminist era, she enthusiastically enters—and frequently wins—jingle-writing contests sponsored by makers of chewing gum, washing machines, shampoo and more. "These contests were a lucrative way for overworked housewives to employ their underused wits," Ryan cheerily explains in a voice-over. And, as it turns out, keep a roof over her family's head. This slight, sprightly film, based on a real-life story (see p. 93) and written and directed by Jane Anderson (the HBO movie Normal), gives its admirable heroine her due without overdramatizing her story or its meaning. The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio makes its points and then moves on. Take, for example, a brief, telling scene in which Ryan consults her priest about her husband's nightly boozing. The priest patronizingly lectures her that her spouse is under a lot of pressure, that she shouldn't nag him. After the priest leaves, one of Ryan's youngsters pipes up, "His breath smells like Dad's."

Moore is radiant as a woman determined to see the bright side of life but capable of dealing with its darker moments. She helps Prize Winner live up to its title. (PG-13)

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