Stepmom Review

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Tammy Wynette was so right. Sometimes it's hard to be a woman. You spend years perfecting your Earth Mother routine, moulding your kids into spoiled smartasses. Then your successful, sexy husband trades you in for a younger woman who looks like Julia Roberts - hang on, she is Julia Roberts! Then you get a terminal disease, and while you fade away bravely you have to watch your children bond with the usurper. Worst of all, she's such a wonderful person that she derails her fabulous career to move in and make your last days one big extended family love-in, so you have to like her.

That's Susan Sarandon's hanky-wringing predicament in a role that's easy meat for her magnificence, as wounded divorcee Jackie, doing her best to maintain hostilities with the ex (Harris) and his new wife Isobel (Roberts) between chemo sessions. For their parts, Harris is his usual, effortlessly substantial presence (though he has little to do here but look guilty and referee) while Roberts holds her own with a very attractive performance, admittedly given that hers is the character who is likeable, good-humoured and too good to be true.

Which may also be said of the picture, a pleasant, drippy descendant of Terms Of Endearment which brings volatile relationships to resolution through the crisis of cancer. That this is a patchwork quilt of a screenplay (written by five credited writers) is apparent in its use of little bits of this and little bits of that. Did none of them notice, looking at the big picture, that it's unbelievable? In real life the first wife's bad-mouthing (sly and witty though it may be) would end in the man never seeing his children at all and maintaining his family's House Beautiful lifestyle only by court order. Yet individual scenes ring very true - such as the malicious digs and petty cruelties, the children's confusion and anger.

This has director Columbus' hand all over it; the little boy is a scamp and so cute you'd like to smack him (Home Alone), Isobel the domestic klutz is learning that laundry is more tricky than advertising (Mrs. Doubtfire), and mom and kids suddenly feel like dancing through the house. Everything is perky. And Jackie's put-downs are so wonderfully nasty as to rival those of Dorothy Parker - on Isobel's lipstick: "Well! That's a colour you don't often

see in the afternoon except on a working girl." Only belatedly, when eyes start leaking and Sarandon starts dispensing conciliatory life wisdom, does anyone realise we may be on a deathwatch.

It's no surprise to see Sarandon and Roberts credited among the producers; movie girls don't just wanna have fun, they wanna have laundry, claws and death scenes.