The one true thing that can be said about families is that there never really is just one true thing, only a multiplicity of truths, a plurality of perspectives at least as numerous as the participants themselves. Marjorie Baumgarten, Austin Chronicle, reviewing One True Thing
One True Thing is a film adapted from Anna Quindlen‘s second novel (1995) that’s set at the holidays and deserves to be seen for its depiction of family relationships (by three strong lead actors) and “plainly portraying and exploring the treacherous emotional depths of a situation that most of us must face at some point in our lives” (Stephen Holden, New York Times).
That situation involves providing care to a terminally ill parent or other family member.
The Amazon editorial review of the book has been updated to set up the movie (1998) as well: “One True Thing is a film starring Meryl Streep as the cancer-stricken homemaker mother, Renee Zellweger as the daughter who quits her top-dog job to care for her, and William Hurt as the chilly professor who lets the women in the family do the heavy emotional lifting dying requires. But the real star of the project remains former New York Times everyday-life columnist Anna Quindlen, who quit her top-dog job to write novels (and who took time off from college to nurse her own dying mother).”
Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “This is far from a disease-of- the-week picture, and it’s not the usual number about families coming together in bad times. Illness is a backdrop for a more complicated story about a young woman’s finding her values tested and discovering the mother she took for granted.”
Additional Info About the Plot and Family Relationships
The movie is told through flashbacks. We know at the outset that Kate (Streep) may have been illegally euthanized. Ellen’s expected by her dad to make major sacrifices to care for Kate.
Todd McCarthy, Variety: “The main problem…is that Ellen and her mother have never gotten along. Ellen, a determined career woman, has increasingly come to view her mom’s world as an unbearably boring, circumscribed one defined by dreary housekeeping duties and silly relationships with endlessly chattering old biddies.”
Rita Kempley, Washington Post:
Ellen’s contempt for her mother is undisguised, but Kate is too loving to chide her daughter or complain. Then, Ellen is forced to confront her greatest fear. ‘The one thing I never wanted to do was live my mother’s life,’ she observes, ‘and here I am living it.’
Gradually, she realizes that her father is hardly the great and good man she believed him to be, nor is Kate merely a chipper, cookie-baking nitwit. And after wearing Kate’s apron for a time, she is awed and humbled by all that her mother has accomplished in what was a wonderful life.
Other Lessons Learned
Lisa Alspector, Chicago Reader: “…(I)ts limited agenda is to remind us that physical and emotional suffering lead to revelations, because a sense of mortality puts things in perspective the way nothing else can.”
Mick LaSalle, San Francisco Chronicle: “…not really about an adult woman’s relationship with her father or mother. It’s more subtle. It’s about her relationship with the internalized Mom-and-Dad within — and how a crisis causes her to reassess what she values.”
Roger Ebert, rogerebert.com: “No matter how well we eventually come to understand our parents, our deepest feelings about them are formed at a time when we are young and have incomplete information…The movie’s lesson is that we go through life telling ourselves a story about our childhood and our parents, but we are the authors of that story, and it is less fact than fiction.”