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» 'Stone Angel' takes a moving road trip

Old lady on the road takes a memory trip, giving Burstyn a chance to shine
by Evan Henerson, published on July 9, 2008 - 11:00:01 PM PDT

When they reach a certain age, well-regarded actresses seem to be awarded their "Trip to Bountiful" moment (following Geraldine Page in her 1985 Oscar-winning role). Why should Ellen Burstyn (already an Oscar winner) deserve any less?

Actually she deserves more.

Yes, that's our Ellen underneath all those lines, wrinkles and sorrow playing a Canadian live wire who refuses to shuffle meekly into a nursing home once her none-too-devoted progeny say it's time. Instead, her Hagar Curie Shipley hops a bus while her broken mind retreats into the past.

The film is "The Stone Angel," an adaptation of a popular novel by Margaret Laurence. Directed by Kari Skogland, "The Stone Angel" is, truthfully, as much a vehicle for newcomer Christine Horne as it is for Burstyn.

Horne - portraying the red-haired younger Hagar - gets to play most of the character's defiance (to say nothing of the sex). When you spurn your father's proud Scot ambitions and take up with a "common" rancher, such things do happen.

An ornate kilt pin - a family heirloom - makes its unsavory way from Curie to Curie like some renegade virus. Hagar gets it, but doesn't want it. Then she passes it on to the wrong family member.

Bram (Cole Hauser) and Hagar clearly have the chemistry thing going, but their union is beset with other more practical difficulties. And for a girl who was so willing to flush her birthright for love, there's a lot of blue blood left. Horne captures the pride. As does Burstyn, even when she's working as a domestic for her hated cousin Lottie (Janet Laine-Green).

Working from her own script, Skogland guides the action to some rather inevitable catharsis and tragedy, and she does so with an appealing lack of sentimentality. During her screen time (mostly toward the back end), Burstyn gives the proceedings dignity, weight and the odd flash of humor. Horne's a likable discovery, and Dylan Baker transcends the unsympathetic son role, primarily through a drunk scene.

That is a pre-"Juno" Ellen Page appearing briefly as the girlfriend of Hagar and Bram's son, John. Five more years and Page'll be playing the younger Hagar role. Five more decades, and maybe she'll be taking her own dowager journey.

Here's hoping screenwriters serve up better scenarios before that happens.

Source: www.la.com

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