Related Articles: Movies, All

The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio

How to Raise Ten Kids on Twenty Five Words Or Less

Jane Anderson's directorial debut tells the true story of an embattled housewife, Terry Ryan, who somehow manages to keep her kids clothed, fed, and housed with her uncanny ability to come up with creative jingles for just about every company trying to hawk their wares. The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio is an inspiring story and almost manages to be a great film.

Julianne Moore plays the seemingly unflappable Terry Ryan while Woody Harrelson plays Ryan's deadbeat husband, Kelly Ryan. While Terry excels at racking up prizes and money with her gift for the written word, Kelly has a gift for screwing things up with his boozing, indiscriminate spending, and foul mood. In the midst of this marital strife are ten kids who are lucky if they get milk on a daily basis.

Harrelson does an exceptional job of playing a grossly insecure schmuck. Harrelson truly has a gift for these kinds of roles and brings a special kind of panache to the loser that few other actors can. Moore is solid as the painfully bright and happy Terry. While Moore's perpetual grin is eerie much of the time, there is really little other choice for Terry to manufacture good cheer given the grim and dire circumstances she deals with on a daily basis. The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio follows Terry as she struggles to raise her kids and overcome Kelly's continued screw-ups.

While it's hard to be critical of a film that is based on a true story, it becomes hard to believe after the first hour or so that anyone would continue to stay with someone like Kelly. Granted, the film does take place in the 1950s when divorce was far less socially acceptable and Terry is saddled with a virtual army of kids. Likewise, it becomes increasingly difficult to buy into the idea that Terry can manage to support ten children solely on catchy jingles. Truth is definitely stranger than fiction in the case of The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio.

While The Prizewinner of Defiance, Ohio is an inspiring and amazing story, it is undermined somewhat by a meandering narrative. Anderson would have been better served by taking certain liberties in tightening things up a bit. As it is, the story seems like a series of vaguely related challenges and obstacles, but there is no real dramatic escalation. It's no prizewinner, but it's a solidly engaging film.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars