With every franchise that breathed even a hint of success being revisited in this less-than exciting age of studio moviemaking, it was only a matter of time before everyone’s favorite British single gal, Bridget Jones, would make a return appearance, which she does in the newly-released Bridget Jones’s Baby.
The film is actress Renee Zellweger’s first time in front of the camera in six years, and for all intents and purposes, Bridget Jones’s Baby seems like a fitting comeback vehicle for the actress. It also gives me enough of a reason to write about the time she starred opposite the legendary Meryl Streep in the touching and surprisingly deep 1998 weepie One True Thing.
In One True Thing, Zellweger stars as Ellen Gulden, a successful journalist living in New York. Despite forever trying to impress her celebrated father George (William Hurt), Ellen’s life feels satisfying to her. However when Ellen’s mother Kate (Streep) is diagnosed with cancer, Ellen is suddenly forced to uproot her life and move home to care for her mother, despite never having enjoyed a close relationship with her. Over the course of Kate’s illness, Ellen is forced to re-evaluate her own life as she looks at the world through the eyes of a woman she never really took the time to know.
So much of One True Thing’s plot sounds incredibly movie of the week. And yet, the richness of its characters takes the film to levels which soar far above conventionality.
In the character of Kate, the film offers up a portrait of someone so incredibly in love with the role she chose for herself in life. Kate is someone who wanted to be a mother and has truly loved every minute of care and devotion she has given to her family. For Kate, her family represents her life’s work and she is truly proud of what she has accomplished. Now faced with a situation in which everything she knows is slowly being taken away from her courtesy of her disease, the changes she must accept are more than a little difficult. In one instance, a frustrated wheelchair-bound Kate lashes out at Ellen after feeling her daughter has implied she’s useless by screaming, “You can’t tell me what to do, this is still my house! I’m still a mother!” In the film’s most emotionally telling scene Kate tells Ellen, who is disenchanted with her life and future, “If I knew that you would be happy, I would close my eyes right now, I would,” showing that even in her condition, she will never stop being what she’s always been.
Equally interesting to behold is Ellen’s journey as a result of Kate’s condition. All her life Ellen has always been dismissive of Kate, oftentimes disregarding her, while at other instances flat out belittling her, choosing instead to praise her brilliant father. When Ellen is faced with the idea of moving home to take care of Kate, she sees it as a major stumbling block in the life she has made for herself. However, as Kate’s illness worsens, and Ellen takes on all of Kate’s household responsibilities, she finally understands the life her mother has lived for so many years. “How do you do this every day in this house, and no one notices,” an exhausted Ellen asks Kate at one point. Kate’s illness proves the ultimate catalyst for Ellen in terms of reevaluating her own life, what she’s always valued, and why. Most importantly, it forces her to look at the woman she’s called mom for so long without ever really seeing the woman Kate was. Towards the end, when mother and daughter have found peace with each other, Ellen whispers to a dying Kate, “I love you,” to which her mother softly replies, “I know that. I’ve always known that.”
Watching two actresses of different generations and approaches to acting has rarely proven as fascinating when it comes to seeing Streep and Zellweger act opposite each other in their respective roles. In fact the two are such unique and distinct performers that it becomes easy to buy them as a mother and daughter who exist on opposing ends of the spectrum thanks to Zellweger’s feistiness and Streep’s serene quality. They are wonderfully aided by Hurt, who manages to not get lost in between the two actresses, bringing forth George’s complex and regretful nature.
One True Thing was far from a box office hit when first released, signifying the end of a time when conventional family dramas could prosper outside the indie film world. But critics reacted incredibly warmly to the film and to its actors, in particular Streep, who collected one of her many Oscar nominations as a result.
With the exception of A Cry in the Dark and perhaps The Manchurian Candidate, One True Thing may be Streep’s most maternal role to date. It is the one time the actress has played a character whose sole reason for existing has been her family. However not even that particular notion has made people remember the film for much outside of recounting the actress’s many Oscar nominations. This is a particular shame, as One True Thing offers one of the most touching and honest examples of a parent/child relationship during one of the biggest milestones life has to offer.