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Veterinarian and part-time mayor Sarah heads a town council desperate to find a doctor to keep open the small town's clinic. They fear, rightly, that family after family will move away and the town will disappear. Their hopes are raised when Bob announces his widower son Michael the surgeon and grand daughter are going to visit for the first time in years for the Xmas holiday. The mayor's attempt to recruit Michael is complicated by their history (their high school romance) and his secret shame (that he has lost his confidence in his surgical skills to the point that his big city hospital is kicking him upstairs to an administrative position). Written by
I adore this movie. It very much reminds me of excellent Hollywood movies from the 1940s - and should probably have been released in theaters.
There are a number of very interesting conflicts in this movie - the appeal of small towns vs. big cities, the psychological conflict within the male protagonist regarding his competence and career, the efforts by small Midwestern towns to remain viable, the awakening of the female middle aged protagonist to her own loneliness - and her subsequent defeated effort to resolve it, the granddaughter's past minimal relationship to her rural grandfather.
So many of the issues in this movie ring true - especially for those in the Midwest but not exclusively.
So many small towns have faded as the young and ambitious left the town far behind them when they went away to college - schools, hospitals, department stores, are shut down as the dwindling population no longer requires - or can support - them.
Similarly, the burn-out of an upper middle class professional after two decades of practice - and without a spouse to sustain him -- is true in countless cases.
Finally, the unlikelihood that a single woman doctor (in this case a veterinarian) will fall for someone of similar interests and education -when she returns to the small town after many years away at college and veterinary school, is very true.
The acting by all the principals is wonderful - Ann Jillian is graciously lovely, vulnerable and far more understated than in most roles I've seen her in, Robert Hays is his very credible gentlemanly self, Jack Palance is extraordinary - again far more understated than I've seen him in other roles, and the actress playing the girl plays her part so well - her trepidation, enthusiasm, directness, warmth.
One thing that I particularly liked about this movie was the pairing of Ann Jillian and Robert Hays. They're two actors I'd never have thought of together - the former has played such brassy and showy roles in so many productions and the latter is so self-effacing, almost shy. Yet this fits their parts perfectly - you can see in their looks and intelligence why they'd have been drawn together in high school - and yet not wanted to continue the relationship when both went off to college.
In the very different personalities of the actor and actress, you feel they're perfect as a FORMER high school couple. And yet as the decades have passed, one can readily accept the growing vulnerability of Ann Jillian's character - one can readily see how the vet's once spectacular attention-getting looks have (gently) faded as she's lived her life of activity and entrepreneurship, taken charge of necessary things - and taken little note of her own self. In this sense, the (still beautiful) Ann Jillian's current round figure and her character's dowdy camouflaging clothes perfectly fit the self-heedlessness of her character.
Similarly, the lines (on which the camera focuses) upon the face of the still boyish looking Hays character are testament to the loss of confidence suffered in the years since the death of the once brilliant funny wife who had fortified his own sense of being successful. His wife no longer shields his lack of confidence. Hays looks careworn and doubtful - and few of his body movements, even the way he looks at others, are committed.
In their current situations, these characters' emotions, hesitations, decisions - even their lies - are very well-written and very credible because they're wonderfully portrayed.
The small town is well-portrayed (especially the speed with which news told to one is passed around), and not overly sentimentalized. Moreover, the big city (Minneapolis? St. Paul? Rochester Minn.?) is - surprisingly and wonderfully - NOT made to look bad to make the small town look appealing. The availability of fun ice rinks, great shopping, a well-run major hospital - ARE advantages of the big city - and they're not downplayed in the interest of the story.
These are real adults - and this is a wonderfully adult movie. If you liked movies with say, Barbara Stanwyck or Bette Davis, Katherine Hepburn or Irene Dunne - this movie's for you. It evokes truly strong emotions in the viewer because it all feels so very true.
I hope this becomes one of those movies that steadily gains enormous favor over time - and becomes ritual viewing across the country.
It's that good.
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