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Antonio Sabato Jr.,
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Good writing, good story, great acting, good direction, good movie
This was one of those rare films that didn't really seem to have any major weaknesses. Usually, when one breaks down a good movie into individual components (the story, the direction, the casting, each performance, the writing, etc.), one starts to realize that there is one element that is making up for other weaknesses (e.g., the direction of "Dead Poets Society" makes up for its predictable story, the performance of Kellie Martin in "All You Need" makes up for its uneven writing, etc.), but this is one of those rare films (along with films like "Amadeus," "JFK" and Kenneth Branagh's "Hamlet") that seems to improve when it's broken down.
Probably the strongest good point of this film is its excellent acting. Mary Steenburgen is hurt a little in the mind of the viewer when watching by having to play a person with a mental handicap (Anybody who has to do that now has to contend with Dustin Hoffman's performance in "Rain Man," and who can really do that?) but manages to pull it off excellently and even nearly outshine the incredible Kellie Martin. Notice the word, "nearly," there, though. I think one of the most interesting things about watching her movies is that one can easily see her progress over time, and this film is a good example. I watched this on the same day that I first watched "The Face on the Milk Carton" and when I consider these in comparison to one another, it is obvious that she had improved greatly by this time. While it is not on the level of her utter brilliance in "All You Need" (which was three years later and one of the absolute greatest performances I have ever seen), her performance in this film is nothing short of the excellence one would expect of Hollywood's most respected stars such as Robert DeNiro and Dustin Hoffman. The world's most beautiful woman actually seems to be improving with each performance, which means that she may actually end up catching Emma Thompson for the title of "best female actor on Earth," in my opinion, and "About Sarah" includes one of her finest performances. The other acting is well done, though none of the other roles really requires much.
Now, I must praise director/co-writer/story-creator Susan Rohrer. She came up with a plausible but somewhat original and very powerful story and executed it wonderfully. While the direction is not striking like Kenneth Branagh's in "Hamlet" or Oliver Stone's in "JFK" or even Randy Ser's in "All You Need," that type of direction is not warranted for this film. What is warranted is what is given: simple. She allows the brilliant ensemble performance to give the film its depth by using shots that let the actors' emotions come out without pushing it into the viewer's face. The storyline is powerful and plausible but still somewhat original, and it is written well. The dialogue to this film is done so realistically as to give it a power not unlike the power of the completely unrealistic but brilliantly written dialogue of "JFK."
Overall, "About Sarah" is a very good movie. It's not a masterpiece, but it's not too far off. In fact, it's even good enough that I would say it's my favorite Kellie Martin movie that I have yet seen (though I was so impressed by her performance in "All You Need" that even her excellent performance here seems almost disappointing). The direction and the writing give it a subtle power that cannot help but call to mind the master of subtlety, Peter Weir, and the performances are nothing short of brilliant. You should not be disappointed from watching this movie.
I do have to say one thing about it that may not seem worthwhile, though. At one point, Mike says to Mary Beth, "You're one of the prettiest, smartest girls I know." How in the world does this guy know anyone prettier than Kellie Martin? I'm not sure that's humanly possible.
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