Independent films are becoming some of my favorites, because you get to see great actors who aren't "big" enough to get leading roles in the studio movies. Ellen Burstyn, one of the biggest stars of the '70s, and still one of the most talented actresses working, has found new life for her waning career in independent pictures like Color of Evening, The Spitfire Grill, this film and most recently her Oscar nominated (which should have been Oscar winning) performance in Requiem for a Dream. After a string of 5 Oscar nominations in the '70s and early '80s, she found her best roles were in the past and saw her career take a downward turn, with 2 Emmy nominated TV-movie roles (The People vs. Jean Harris and Pack of Lies), a great part in How to Make an American Quilt and the lead in The Cemetery Club being notable exceptions to the many unsatisfying acting jobs she had in the '80s and '90s. Fortunately, she can still get great parts like Mattie Rigsbee in Walking Across Egypt and proves she still has what it takes.
This movie is a touching story about a lonely widow and a troubled but basically decent teen who has never been loved. Mattie needs someone to love and take care of, because her two spoiled children (played by Gail O'Grady and Judge Reinhold) don't really want to be bothered with her. In fact, her daughter wants to put her in a retirement home. She would much rather be in her house and near her friends and church, though. As Mattie puts it, she is "slowing down." But, she's sharp as a tack and can still take care of herself.
Walking Across Egypt does a great job of illustrating the hypocrisy of so-called Christians. Mattie loves God deeply (when she sings hymns, the best thing that can be said is that she does it with a pure heart) and wants very much to do what He would want. So, she reaches out to young Wesley (played with a new maturity by handsome young Jonathan Taylor Thomas), a 16 year old boy in the Young Men's Rehabilitation Center about whom she hears from his uncle, the local dogcatcher. When things go awry, her minister (Edward Herrmann), the very one whose sermon prompted Mattie's kindness to Wesley, shows some rather un-Christian behavior (as does his wife) that is the antithesis of Mattie's good intentions and of his own preaching.
The acting in this movie is all excellent, especially, of course, Ellen Burstyn, who is made up to look 20 years older than she really does. She is the heart and soul of the film, and, as usual brings depth to her character that can't be described in writing. Those eyes of hers always get to me and are her secret weapon in acting. JTT proves with this role that he is becoming a fine young actor and shouldn't join the ranks of has-been child stars. Another standout is the late Gwen Verdon's amusing performance as Mattie's ditzy neighbor. Mark (Luke Skywalker) Hamill is appropriately slack-jawed as the dogcatcher, Lamar.
I won't reveal any more details, as the viewer should experience the development of Mattie and Wesley's relationship for him/herself. There are some very funny moments, as well as some poignant and even ones that might inspire tears. Overall it is the story of a troubled boy who is looking for hope and redemption and how he finds it improbably in an elderly woman who is herself needing something to fill an empty space.
12 of 15 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?