THE PRIZE WINNER OF DEFIANCE, OHIO
Living In A Bubble
How The American Dream Became A Nightmare
By Cole Smithey
Packaged as a representational rendering of a true story "The Prize Winner Of Defiance, Ohio" smacks of a maudlin attempt by its author (Terry Ryan) at propping up a self-martyred mother of 10 who amends her abusive husband’s meager income by winning jingle contests in the ‘50s. Screenwriter/director Jane Anderson makes her feature film debut with a film that’s infuriating for its glossy approval of a woman who turns a blind eye to the emotional suffering she and her children endure at the hands of her alcoholic husband Kelly (Woody Harrelson). Hermetically sealed in a wrongheaded ‘50s logic, Julianne Moore portrays the maternal idiot savant character of Evelyn as she engages in winning thousands of dollars in cash and prizes that never include birth control.
One unintended thematic element of the movie that works remarkably well is its revelation about material wealth as being useless and frustrating in the context of a distorted familial paradigm. When the Ryan family hit the jackpot and win a truckload of consumer goods that includes a gigantic freezer, Kelly gets soused and treats the occasion with enormous disappointment that climaxes with him beating the tar out of the white monolith that sits awkwardly in his kitchen. Although we’re shocked at Kelly’s outrageous outburst of violence, his reaction comes to make more sense as we begin to recognize his wife’s rose-colored view of better living through material gain.
The movie can be looked on for its incidental evidence of everything wrong with American capitalist obsessed ideology. Evelyn is a woman who digested ‘50s television propaganda to a heightened degree that enabled her to repeat the consciously coded rhetoric back to the corporations for cash and prizes. The great irony of the film is that it praises the calculated carelessness that Evelyn exerts over her husband and 10 children. While Kelly is left in a corner of the movie to stew as a cruel alcoholic, we get another glimpse of the effect of Evelyn’s negligence when one of her sons is caught stealing and chooses to go into the military rather than serve a jail term. His fate is an example of how the television-promoted "American dream" of the ‘50s grew into our corporate dominated modern nightmare of existence. When Evelyn explains her existential viewpoint to her favorite daughter we get the full impact of her ability to disconnect from the world around her under a guise of enjoying the moment to the fullest. Her bubble is our bubble, and nothing can pop it.
Rated PG-13. 99 mins. (C-) (Two Stars)