Movie Reviews
12:15 pm
Thu December 6, 2001

An American Rhapsody

I know about teenage daughters, believe me --- rebel they will, and Scarlett Johansson's daughter Suzanne shows teen anguish and rebellion as authentic as could be.

Veteran editor Eva Gardos ("Mask") has her first directorial production with "An American Rhapsody." It's a story of a young girl's odyssey from Hungary to the U.S. in the 1940's, bouncing from her natal to adopted families with the help of her grandmother.

I found nothing remotely rhapsodic. I did want to rap upside the head Nastassja Kinski as mother, whose heavy handling of her daughter is unremitting and unrealistic given what should be the softening of time. But given that director Gardos may have lived through an even more harrowing dislocation, exacerbating a teenager's natural uncertainty about identity, I question my own definition of "unrealistic."

I know about teenage daughters, believe me --- rebel they will. Scarlett Johansson's daughter Suzanne shows teen anguish and rebellion as authentic as could be, even compared with a strong Kirsten Dunst portrayal this summer in "crazy/beautiful."

It's how you handle that rebellion that counts, and Kinski's mom does so poorly that her daughter almost murders her with a hunting rifle. Suzanne's epiphany as she sees the discomforts of modern Communist Hungary upon returning to Budapest is authentic and serves the denouement well.

The 40's and 50's set design is unusually accurate, especially the America of Oldsmobiles and tacky modern furniture. I have rarely seen such meticulous replica.

It's hard to believe that an intelligent filmmaker could contrive an ending so that everyone would be happy---it happens here. Otherwise, the early idyllic episodes on the farm with her foster parents are the opposite: realistic depictions of sincere and productive caring. The scenes in Los Angeles, as Suzanne learns about boys, booze, and cigarettes, are much too real to any parents to be dismissed as fiction.

I am moved by this statement in the film: "We all make mistakes out of love." It is proven through first-person narration, extended flashback, and raw unsentimentality in a flawed but affecting film.