Map of the World, A [1999]

If you're among those who thinks that statuesque Sigourney Weaver is one of the best American actresses going, then A Map of the World is for you--it's a showcase for one terrific, Oscar-worthy performance. As Wisconsin farm wife and school nurse Alice Goodwin, Weaver projects an awkward, difficult woman--a quintessential outsider, too smart for comfort, at home in neither her own skin nor in life. In contrast to the Good Housekeeping perfection that flows from serene best friend Teresa (Julianne Moore), Alice's house is a mess, her kids hate her, and her ineffectual husband (David Strathairn) has never gotten used to the way she blurts out uncensored, often caustic truths. In the time it takes for Alice--while baby-sitting--to find her bathing suit and glance at a map of an imaginary world she colored as a child, one of Teresa's daughters drowns. It's the first catastrophe of two--she's subsequently accused of child abuse--that mark the end of the Goodwins' world. Ostracized by her neighbors, jailed with "baby-killers," Alice slowly reconstitutes, drawing unexpected penance and community from her stripped-down environment. It's an utterly fascinating process, watching Weaver's character develop emotional focus and anchorage--as wife, mother, woman. A Map of the World challenges us--refreshingly--with unpredictable narrative turns, from domestic drama to gritty slice of prison life to romantic interlude to courtroom climax and more. Along the way, this fine adaptation of Jane Hamilton's popular novel delivers insights into what it means to be fallibly human--as well as strong supporting performances by Strathairn and Moore especially, plus Arliss Howard and Chloƫ Sevigny. --Kathleen Murphy

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