A Map of the World

Directed by Scott Elliot
Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Julianne Moore, David Strathairn, Arliss Howard, ChloŽ Sevigny, Louise Fletcher.
MPAA Rating: R for some sexuality and language.

Review by Matt Heffernan
April 29, 2000

This review may seem to be a little late since A Map of the World was released in January, after an Oscar engagement in December. For some reason, though, the distribution was almost non-existent. Over the past few months, Overseas FilmGroup has been taking this film around the country, showing it at only a few theatres at once. It finally made it to my neck of the woods last week, and the print looked like it had been to war and back. But, I must say it was worth the wait.

Sigourney Weaver plays Alice Goodwin, a nurse at an elementary school in rural Wisconsin. Her husband, Howard (David Strahtairn), is a dairy farmer, and they have two little girls. Alice's friend Theresa (Julianne Moore) has two girls the same age, and they often look after each other's children. Soon after school lets out for the summer, Theresa left her kids with Alice to go swimming in their pond. While Alice was looking for her bathing suit, Theresa's youngest daughter took off to the pond herself, and drowned.

The experience is emotionally devastating for both women, but this is only the beginning for Alice. A few days later, she is charged with child abuse, not by Theresa, but by Carole MacKessy (ChloŽ Sevigny), the young mother of Robbie (Marc Donato), who claims that Alice sexually molested him in her office. Alice is sent to prison on $100,000 bail, and Howard is left to take care of the girls and deal with a hostile community, while continuing to work on the farm that could pay for the bail if sold.

A Map of the World is an exceptional debut for director Scott Elliot, and one of the best films in recent months. It was adapted by Peter Hedges and Polly Platt from the acclaimed novel by Jane Hamilton. The title refers to a drawing that Alice made as a child while her mother was dying. Weaver takes this character through an emotional meat grinder, giving one of her greatest performances. She was nominated for a Golden Globe, but a nod from the Academy didn't come.

Of course, 1999 was the biggest year ever for Moore, and it was her role in The End of the Affair that got the most attention. Her role in this film is much smaller, but quite worthy of her talent. It is Strathairn who quietly takes over this film with a deceptively simple performance. These actors have the screenplay to thank, which avoids many of the conventions of legal dramas. In fact, the courtroom sequence is very short, letting the film concentrate more on the characters.

So why couldn't this film get to the public? It was produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, who often collaborate with Steven Spielberg. They should certainly have the clout to get this film the distribution it deserves, but somehow it just didn't happen. Chances are, few people will see this film in theatres after I write this review. At least I got to write it before the film was released to video, where it is sure to find an audience.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
A Map of the World (1999)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
A Map of the World (2000) -- VHS
A Map of the World (2000) -- DVD
A Map of the World, a novel by Jane Hamilton -- Hardcover
A Map of the World, a novel by Jane Hamilton -- Paperback
A Map of the World, a novel by Jane Hamilton -- Audio Cassette (read by Mary Beth Hurt and David Strathairn)
A Map of the World: Soundtrack -- Compact Disc

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan