In 1957, a son and mother flee the East and an abusive boyfriend to find a new life, and end up in Seattle, where the mother meets a polite garage mechanic. The boy continually gets into trouble by hanging out with the wrong crowd. The mom marries the mechanic, but they soon find out that he's an abusive and unreasoning alcoholic, and they struggle to maintain hope in an impossible situation as the boy grows up with plans to escape the small town by any means possible. Based on a true story by Tobias Wolff.Written by
Ed Sutton <firstname.lastname@example.org>
In the movie and book, Toby's stepfather is named Dwight Hansen. In reality, it was Robert Thompson. See more »
When they're all having dinner after Caroline wins the shooting contest, Skipper asks Pearl for the salt and pepper and you can just about see that Pearl is not wearing glasses. But in the next shot of her, she is wearing glasses. See more »
Tobias 'Toby' Wolff:
It was 1957. We were driving from Florida to Utah. After my mother was beaten up by her boyfriend, we got in the Nash and high-tailed it for the uranium fields. We were gonna get rich and change our luck, which hadn't been so hot since our family broke up five years back.
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You can't begrudge an actor super-success; that's what they all crave for, if for nothing else, to allow them the luxury of choosing the scripts they want. But nevertheless it's kind of a shame that Leonardo DiCaprio has never been the same since "Titanic." In three of his earlier films--"What's Eating Gilbert Grape?" "The Basketball Diaries," and this one--he had a promise not quite seen since James Dean, whom bad luck prevented from going beyond his own early promise.
DiCaprio is excellent here as a frustrated teen-age stepson to DeNiro's petty and jealous stepfather. (Ellen Barkin holds her own between them, but how quickly she went from a teen bride in "Diner" to a romantic lead in "The Big Easy" to the mother of a teenager in "This Boy's Life"! Hollywood devours actresses.) One forgets how powerless kids are to the parents who keep them fed. Watch DiCaprio trying to play high school basketball in slippery cordovans because DeNiro won't buy him sneakers. Watch his frustration in learning that DeNiro has traded his rifle for a dog he doesn't want. Watch his rebellion in sneaking off in DeNiro's car, singing to the car radio (man, does that bring back memories) and later his attempts at being cool with his buddies. smoking cigarettes and sporting a DA haircut like they do. Watch him in fact throughout.
But for all that, he's not a whit better than DeNiro in this movie. First of all, DeNiro has adopted an accent far removed from his gangster roles, with flat vowels and a whining drawl. And he's not a totally unsympathetic character, just a petty bully with a taste for Perry Como. A final scene where he challenges DiCaprio with a not-quite-empty mustard jar perfectly captures his smallness. And if we haven't already guessed that DeNiro is a supremely disappointed man, it's made clear when DiCaprio finally finagles a prep school scholarship and actually leaves, his mother too. "How about me?" DeNiro shouts at their backs. "When is it my turn?"
A couple of shortcomings: It's never really made clear the relationship between DeNiro and his two daughters by his first marriage. They don't develop at all. And also, there's a brief and unnecessary sex scene between DeNiro and Barkin that shows his minor kink. This scene doesn't appear in Wolff's memoir and shouldn't be here.
Ah, Leo, we knew ye when.
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