A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries

A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries

***

Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

She's not a soldier's daughter. She's a writer's daughter. Her name is Channe, played in her teens by the remarkable Leelee Sobieski. Her father is called Bill Willis, thinly disguised as the author of From Here To Eternity, whose daughter, Kaylie, wrote the autobiographical novel on which this movie is based.

As a rites-of-passage, it suffers too wide a time frame, 11 years of a girl's life in Paris and the United States. Too much is taken for granted. It starts with the Willis's adopting six-year-old Benoit, even though both his parents are alive. There is no explanation for this, nor any reason given why his mother won't sign the adoption papers. Benoit becomes Billy and is treated as Channe's brother.

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He is introvert and quiet. She is introvert and vocal. They hate school, although Channe loves Eng Lit. Her special friend is Francis Fortescue (Anthony Roth Costanzo), an unusually gifted, rebellious boy, who sees through the fallacy of youth's aura of golden promise. He has an originality that appears precocious, exposing her deep conventional roots.

When they move back to the States, because dad isn't well, Channe and Billy go through hell once more at the local high school. Puberty's bursting through the undergrowth and Channe goes along with those one-night back seat romances, because she feels so alone. Billy is bullied and passive. You think, maybe he's gay, maybe he'll discover. He doesn't. He slobs in front of the telly, driving his mom wild.

All this is par for the course: teenage angst, lethargy, sexual experimentation, confusion. You want to know more about the parents. Barbara Hershey hints at a passionate, unfulfilled, neurotic soul and Kris Kristofferson is weathered wisdom and slow movements. There is no comprehension of the writer's life, no unity beyond what's in the script.

Sobieski is wonderful at being infatuated with her own feelings and captures the willful excess of teenage emotion only too well. The film isn't really about her. It's about all of them. And the others are dull. If Billy had been raped in the school john by a bunch of football jocks and Channe's boyfriend crashed Mr Willis's car after the New Year party, it wouldn't have changed anything. You're half expecting something like that, because otherwise the film is little more than snaps from a family album.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2001
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Rites-of-passage drama about a writer's daughter.
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Director: James Ivory

Writer: James Ivory, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, based on the novel by Kaylie Jones

Starring: Kris Kristofferson, Barbara Hershey, Leelee Sobieski

Year: 1997

Runtime: 130 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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