ⓘ One True Thing

One True Thing

ⓘ One True Thing

One True Thing is a 1998 American drama film directed by Carl Franklin. It tells the story of a woman who is forced to put her life on hold in order to care for her mother who is dying of cancer. It was adapted by Karen Croner from the novel by Anna Quindlen. The novel and film are based on Anna Quindlens real life struggle with the death of her mother, Prudence Pantano Quindlen, from ovarian cancer in 1972.

The film stars Meryl Streep, Renee Zellweger, William Hurt and Tom Everett Scott. Bette Midler sings the lead song, "My One True Friend", over the end credits. The track was first released on Midlers 1998 album Bathhouse Betty. It was shot in Morristown, NJ, Maplewood, NJ, as well as at the campus of Princeton University.


1. Plot

Ellen Gulden has a high-pressure job writing for New York magazine. As the movie begins, she is visiting her family home for her fathers surprise birthday party. It becomes obvious that she deeply admires her father, George, a once-celebrated novelist and literature professor at Princeton University, but has barely restrained disdain for her mother, Kate, and the domestic life she lives and has always viewed her as a ditzy Stepford Wife. When it is discovered that Kate has cancer, George pressures Ellen to come home and take care of her mother. Ellen is taken aback by this request, knowing it could jeopardize her career and love interest, but finally agrees, caving in to her fathers appeals and inducements.

As Ellen helps her mother with domestic chores while her father goes about his usual business without helping much, Ellen begins to reassess her views of her parents. She realizes she always brushed her mother aside and idealized her father, despite his self-centered focus on his career and - she discovers - a longtime habit of having flings with his female students.

Ellen attempts to find a place for herself in her parents life, while struggling to continue writing on a freelance basis and maintain her relationship with her boyfriend in New York. Over time, Ellen grows closer to her mother and learns more about her parents marriage - including realizing that Kate has known about Georges affairs all along. Ellen also learns that her fathers philandering days have become lonely nights of drinking at a local bar to numb the pain of never again achieving success with, nor even being able to complete, further novels. George admits to Ellen that the reason he loved Kate was that she was full of light shining through everything, and he couldnt bear the thought of her light slipping away.

As her mother is dying, Ellen tells her she loves her, and Kate says she knew it and always had.

After Kates death, the autopsy reveals that Kate actually died of a morphine overdose, and a District Attorney questions Ellen about her mothers death. Scenes from this interview are interspersed throughout the movie and point to Ellen being suspected of having assisted her mothers suicide. In the closing scene, by Kates grave, Ellen has returned from a new job she found in New York with the Village Voice. She is planting daffodils when she sees her father approaching, their first encounter since the funeral. George tells Ellen she was very brave to do what she did, and she looks puzzled until she realizes George thinks she had given her mother the fatal overdose. Ellen replies that she had thought the accomplice was the father. They both realize Kate must have killed herself.

George speaks to Ellen of how much he loved Kate, considering her his muse, his "one true thing." As the movie ends, Ellen is explaining to her father how to plant the daffodil bulbs and he is helping, foreshadowing, it seems, their reconciliation based on mutual long overdue appreciation of Kate.


2. Cast

  • William Hurt as George Gulden
  • Patrick Breen as Mr. Tweedy
  • Tom Everett Scott as Brian Gulden
  • James Eckhouse as District Attorney
  • Nicky Katt as Jordan Belzer
  • Renee Zellweger as Ellen Gulden
  • Meryl Streep as Kate Gulden
  • Lauren Graham as Jules

3. Reception

The movie received mostly favorable reviews from critics with Streep receiving acclaim for bringing warmth and natural features instead of being cold and technical; the review aggregate web site Rotten Tomatoes rates it as 89% fresh. The similar site Metacritic gives it 63 points on a scale of 100, signifying "generally favorable reviews". Todd McCarthy of Variety called it "sensitively written, fluidly directed and expertly acted". Roger Ebert, reviewing the film for the Chicago Sun-Times, commended it for raising above the level of a soap through pure craftsmanship. He awarded the film three stars out of four.

Mick LaSalle in the San Francisco Chronicle declared, "After One True Thing, critics who persist in the fiction that Streep is a cold and technical actress will need to get their heads examined. She is so instinctive and natural - so thoroughly in the moment and operating on flights of inspiration - that shes able to give us a woman whos at once wildly idiosyncratic and utterly believable." Los Angeles Times film critic Kenneth Turan noted that Streeps role "is one of the least self-consciously dramatic and surface showy of her career, but Streep adds a level of honesty and reality that makes one of her most moving." Among the few negative reviews, s Andrew OHehir complained that the movie "really has no plot", and found director Carl Franklin unable to properly connect with his cast.

Streep was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in the film but lost out to Gwyneth Paltrow for her role in Shakespeare in Love.

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