EAST HAMPTON, N.Y. -- One of the strangest cinematic love stories in recent memory, "The Whole Wide World" has the advantage of being true. An account of the lengthy and bizarre relationship between famous pulp-fiction writer Robert E. Howard ("Conan the Barbarian", "Red Sonja") and a Texas schoolteacher named Novalyne Price, the film boasts outstanding performances by Vincent D'Onofrio and rising star Renee Zellweger. Recently shown at the Hamptons International Film Festival, the film will be released commercially by Sony Pictures Classics, which will need to handle this special item with kid gloves.
Howard, a highly idiosyncratic figure, lived with his parents in the small town of Cross Plains, Texas, in the 1930s, churning out fantasy, adventure and science-fiction tales at a ferocious pace. They appeared in various magazines specializing in pulp fiction, including Weird Tales and Amazing Stories. For several years, he was involved in an on-again, off-again relationship with the young teacher. Although their relationship ended with his death by suicide in 1936 (he was only 30), she wrote about it decades later in an acclaimed memoir, "One Who Walked Alone", upon which this movie is based.
Howard was an anti-social loner who was obsessed with his mother (played by Ann Wedgeworth
) and who had the habit of loudly acting out his stories while writing them; he was considered more than a little odd by the townspeople. But he was endlessly fascinating to Novalyne, who aspired to be a writer herself. Their unconventional relationship, in which she wins his love but is unable to domesticate him or cure him of his demons, is detailed in Michael Scott Myers
' episodic screenplay.
D'Onofrio, who has proved himself to be an intensely charismatic, highly physical and chameleon-like actor, is riveting as Howard. He beautifully expresses the writer's dual personalities: the socially inadequate, shy, fumbling gentleman and the blustery, confident figure who liked to imagine himself as his favorite character, Conan. Zellweger, who has the much less flashy role, is greatly impressive as Novalyne, who has more than a few contradictions of her own. Shifting effortlessly between the role's comic and more dramatic demands, she demonstrates a charm and range that bodes well for her upcoming co-starring role with Tom Cruise
in "Jerry Maguire". Myers' screenplay is admirably subtle, although it does meander a bit too long in its storytelling; the film could benefit from some trimming. Dan Ireland
's direction skillfully establishes the small-town Texas atmosphere and beautifully captures the nuances of an emotionally complex story.
THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD
A Sony Pictures Classics release
Presented by the Kushner-Locke Co.
in association with Cineville
Director Dan Ireland
Screenplay Michael Scott Myers
Executive producers Donald Kushner
Peter Locke, Gregory Cascanate
Co-executive producer Robert Strauss
Producers Carl-Jan Colpaert, Dan Ireland
Vincent D'Onofrio, Kevin Reidy
Director of photography Claudio Rocha
Editor Luis Colina
Music Hans Zimmer
Robert E. Howard Vincent D'Onofrio
Novalyne Price Renee Zellweger
Mrs. Howard Ann Wedgeworth
Dr. Howard Harve Presnell
Clyde Benjamin Mouton
Running time -- 111 minutes
MPAA rating: PG