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Carrie Watts is living the twilight of her life trapped in an apartment in 1940's Houston, Texas with a controlling daughter-in-law and a hen-pecked son. Her fondest wish -- just once before she dies -- is to revisit Bountiful, the small Texas town of her youth which she still refers to as "home." The trouble is her son, Ludie, is too concerned for her health to allow her to travel alone and her petty daughter-in-law, Jessie Mae, insists they don't have money to squander on bus tickets. This prompts "escape" attempts each month which coincide with the arrival of Mrs. Watts' Social Security check. Then, Mrs. Watts makes a successful escape and last trip home.Written by
Mark Fleetwood <email@example.com>
Carlin Glynn (Jessie Mae) is married to director Peter Masterson; they are the parents of Peter Masterson, Jr., who played the newspaper boy. See more »
While Mother Watts is at the bus stop you see the bus approach. The head-sign says Montrose, which is just west of downtown Houston. If you look at the terrain, it is sloped not true rolling hills, but still somewhat hilly. Houston is flat as a board. These hills are reminiscent of the Dallas/Irvine area. See more »
Mrs. Carrie Watts:
I guess when you've lived longer than your house and your family, then you've lived long enough.
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This is a gentle, contemplative little film. It is the story of an old woman's return to her pre-Depression home, and the memories and regrets that the journey invokes.
Mother Watts lives with her son Ludie and his wife Jessie Mae in a two-room apartment. Life is cramped. Mother has to sleep on the couch, everybody in the apartment is constantly getting in everybody else's way, physically and emotionally, and the neighbours can hear every word. Mother Watts is a country girl in spirit, having been raised on the land, and her yearning to get away from the rootless, joyless suburbs eventually overwhelms her ...
The film is set in the nascent middle-class suburban environment of Houston, Texas in the 1940's. Ludie and Jessie Mae are a typical couple in their early middle years: he is hoping for a salary raise, so that he can afford a house and a car, she inhabits a narrow psychological world of nice clothes, coffee shops and picture shows. Ludie's mother lives with them, and this irritates Jessie Mae intensely. The two women clash repeatedly as Jessie Mae constantly seeks to assert her ascendancy within the household.
Mother Watts is a simple soul. She sings the hymns she learnt as a child as she goes about her dreary chores (Jessie Mae does no housework). Mother receives a monthly pension cheque from the government, and this seems to be the only reason that Jessie Mae tolerates her presence. The daughter-in-law clearly regards the cheque as her own property.
The old lady inhabits a world of reverie, an intuitive, emotional world of memories. The full moon keeps her awake all night, as it did when she lived in the rural community of Bountiful, some 20 years previously. In the glow of the moonlight, she hankers for that idealised country life. When Jessie Mae switches on the electric light, its harsh glare ends the dream-time abruptly, stark modernism cutting Mother Watts' links with her own personal history.
Mother Watts resolves to make one last trip to Bountiful. On her way she encounters obstacles (she has enormous difficulty cashing her cheque) and disappointments (death and progress have transformed the Bountiful of her memories). However, she also meets with the kindness of strangers. Thelma, the young woman who is travelling her way, befriends her and shares confidences with her. Mother Watts reveals that two of her children died in Bountiful - one of diphtheria, one of sheer poverty. The local sheriff (Richard Bradford) undergoes a change of heart and helps the old woman to revisit the place of her dreams.
When Ludie and Jessie Mae finally catch up with the wandering old lady, Ludie momentarily glimpses that other world, the world of soil, simplicity and communal spirit. Jessie Mae is of course impervious to Bountiful's charms, and she seems utterly out of place in her white high-heels.
The 'message' of this nostalgic little film is that people who live on the land put down roots which sustain them them through hardship and sadness, whereas the shallow urbanites have nothing to bolster their bland existence. Mother Watts may have lost two babies, but she is infinitely more fulfilled than Jessie Mae, who has never had any children.
An excellent period feel suffuses the film. The early scenes in the apartment are suitable claustrophobic, helping to develop the theme of 'hemming-in'. By contrast, when Mother Watts begins her bus ride, the screen opens out into an impressive panorama of land and sky. We feel that this will be Mother Watts' final adventure in life, and this elegiac quality is subtly underscored by clever touches: we see her behind a glass panel at the bus station, with the lettering "Houston Terminal Cafe" obliterating her face.
Geraldine Page is great as Mother Watts, keeping her character simple and humble, and resisting the temptation to 'grandstand'. John Heard impresses in the role of Ludie, the slightly downtrodden son who strives to do the right thing. Again, the characterisation is spot-on ... Ludie is dull and inarticulate, and Heard grounds him in bathos. Carlin Glynn has fun playing the awful Jessie Mae, and Rebecca de Mornay is first-class as the sweet-natured Thelma.
A restricted palate can sometimes produce the most powerful effects. The final scene, where Mother Watts gets her fingers in the dirt one last time, is a terrific climax, built up slowly and patiently, and relying purely on the interplay of characters.
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