Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio

I grew up about thirty miles from Defiance, Ohio--so when the book The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio was published in 2001, my mom and I both read it eagerly. There's something about being from a small town and having some sort of connection, no matter how vague or distant, to something famous.

I had no idea they had made the book into a movie until I was browsing Netflix a few weeks ago. Steve and I watched it last night, and I loved it. I am really surprised that I never heard anything about it when it came out in 2005! I think sometimes "sleeper" movies like this one end up being a lot better than the overhyped multi-million dollar box office hits. It's truly an excellent movie.

What impressed me the most was the acting of the two lead characters. Julianne Moore plays Evelyn Ryan, the star of the story. She's a 1950s homemaker who, as the book's subtitle explains, "raised 10 kids on 25 words or less." (The book is a memoir about this amazing woman, written by her daughter Terry.) With an alcoholic husband who drinks away every paycheck, witty and creative Evelyn, who once aspired to be a writer, devotes her talents to entering contests. Back then, "sweepstakes" contests where the winner is randomly drawn were rare; rather, winners were chosen by writing the best jingle for a product.

Evelyn clearly has a gift for these contests, and besides a crazy assortment of prizes, her winning entries provide everything from milk money to a down payment on a house. Her life is often devastating; it's uncanny how things always seem to fall apart for her. Yet she responds with dignity and grace and an inexplicable upbeat attitude. Julianne Moore makes Evelyn's cheerful optimism seem almost surreal, yet there are enough sober moments that she doesn't come across as trite.

Woody Harrelson, who plays her husband, Kelly Ryan, amazed me. Somehow he created a truly sympathetic character. Kelly is often angry and violent; especially when contrasted with hopeful, loving Evelyn, it would be easy to unequivocally hate him. Yet Harrelson's portrayal of the alcoholic husband/father leaves you feeling sorry for him a good part of the time.

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio is part heartwarming, part heartbreaking. If you're looking for a quirky and fun film that's also moving, I'd definitely recommend this one. It also made me want to reread the book--which, if I remember correctly, was excellent as well.


Christin said...

Yes - I really enjoyed this movie too. The name of the town "Defiance" has so much to do with the heart of this movie. In the face of tragedy, Evelyn "defies" many reasons and good excuses to become a bitter, broken woman. :-)

Anonymous said...

You're the second person who's mentioned how good this movie is. I put it on my movie list so that when I go to the video store I come away with something I like.

The Bontragers said...

I'm really glad you posted this. The first time I saw this book was in a QVC Outlet in Florida (random as that is), and almost picked it up for - like you said - the fact that it was Defiance and anything remotely "famous" from our area captures your attention right away. Since then, I've spotted the book a few times in antique shops. I'll definitely pick it up next time it comes across my way.

Kat Coble said...

I got your email when I was at my parents, and couldn't respond.

I did watch the movie...but I didn't like it at all.

I'm sooo sorry.

Unknown said...

Where did you grow up? I grew up in Montpelier. I enjoyed the movie as well! I haven't read the book, but I think I would like to.