Jackie Harrison (Susan Sarandon) is the mother of twelve year old Anna (Jena Malone) and
seven year old Ben (Liam Aitken). The children live part of the time with their father
Luke (Ed Harris) and his new partner Isabel Kelly (Julia Roberts). Isabel is a fashion
photographer, unused to the responsibilities of motherhood, with the result that Anna and
Ben are often a distant second to her work. Jackie, on the other hand, is the perfect
mother and makes no secret of her disdain for Isabel. The children are caught in the
middle of this awkward, if not unhealthy, domestic arrangement. But when Jackie is
diagnosed with cancer, all need to reassess their values and priorities.
"Impeccable credentials, slick, glossy and very Hollywood. And it has a big, big
heart, emanating from top performances by two of Hollywood's favourite leading ladies.
Stepmom explores relationships and the friendships within them. You know pretty much what
to expect: the basic storyline is no secret. It's how and by whom that makes for the
enjoyment and emotional involvement. Sarandon is superb: her ability to create real
characters is not new, and her performance is heartfelt and moving. Roberts shows more
depth than we are used to seeing; the two complement each other beautifully. Theirs is an
emotional see-saw, which rocks, teeters and balances itself. It's a class cast. Ed Harris
is wonderful on screen, and the two children are quite outstanding. Five names credited
for the script are cause for worry: the script dips in the middle, when some situations
and dialogue are beyond credibility. Yes, there are touches of schmaltz, contrivances and
a little manipulation, but they don't impinge on the overall enjoyment. The film's look is
superb and the uplifting score by John Williams with its marvellous guitar solos, haunting
motifs and impressive melodic orchestrations is a treat. Rich, moving, sad and funny,
Stepmom reaffirms family values in an appealing package."
Eight executive producers, four producers and five writers all had a hand in bringing
this schmalzy melodrama to the screen - that should give one an initial idea of what to
expect. This is a cloying, simplistic soap opera of the worst kind, one that attempts to
be realistic but is as false as the emotions it endlessly wrings from its muddled script.
It's annoying that such a good idea- that about family and the intrusion of a would-be
stepmother - somehow has been so seriously tainted by the egos of its stars (who,
incidentally, are two of the film's executive producers). Director Chris Columbus is one
of Hollywood's most conventional and unimaginative directors, and the film is riddled with
cliché and predicability. Right from the outset, we know exactly how the film will
develop, how each character will be formed, and what its inevitable conclusion will be.
Performances are acceptable enough, though Roberts shows how little depth she has as a
dramatic actress, while Sarandon is stronger in a ridiculously flawless mother role. Ed
Harris comes off far better, while both children give nicely naturalistic performances.
With little depth, Stepmom resembles a TV movie, while John Williams' annoying score
insists on telling us how to feel at every moment. A cloying excuse for drama."
"There are echoes of Robert Benton’s Oscar-winning Kramer vs. Kramer in this
wrenching domestic drama. Filled with wonderful performances from the star-studded cast,
Stepmom is a perceptive look at family life and its complications in the late 1990’s.
I’ve found some of Chris Columbus’ previous work to be somewhat monotone; but
here he extracts multi-layered performances from both his adult and child actors. The
dynamic between Roberts and Sarandon is compelling. As the well-meaning but hopelessly
ill-equipped Isabel, Julia Roberts brings a reality to a role that could have ended up a
parody. Similarly, Sarandon’s Jackie is not the saint you might expect. It would have
been easy to set her up as a martyr, but the intelligent script doesn’t descend into
such cliché. However, Ed Harris (although great while on screen) is shamefully
under-utilised, particularly as his character provides a vital link between the two women.
I was also rather disappointed in the sugar-coated ending, which doesn’t mesh well
after Jackie’s bile-spitting disdain for Isabel earlier in the film. The
cinematography is wonderful, with the picture-postcard New York locations adding to the
impact. For the most part, Stepmom is sentimental without being schmaltzy; engaging
without being manipulative. This is a superior drama about family, pain and coping."
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SOFCOM MOVIE TIMES
CAST: Julia Roberts, Susan Sarandon, Ed Harris, Jena Malone, Liam Aiken
DIRECTOR: Chris Columbus
PRODUCER: Wendy Finerman
SCRIPT: Gigi Levangie, Jessie Nelson, Steven Rogers, Karen Leigh Hopkins, Ron Bass
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Donald M. McAlpine ASC
EDITOR: Neil Travis ACE
MUSIC: John Williams
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Stuart Wurtzel
RUNNING TIME: 125 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Columbia TriStar
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 21, 1999
VIDEO RELEASE: June 16, 1999 (Rental)
Sell-Thru: December 6; RRP:
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Col TriStar