WALK THE LINE
WALK THE LINE (not rated, PG-
13) is an extraordinary biopic
about legendary country and
rockabilly singer Johnny Cash (1932-
2003). The film opens with young John
(Ridge Canipe) on his family’s small
Alabama cotton farm during the Great
Depression. John’s mother, Carrie
(Shelby Lynne), teaches him hymns.
His father, Ray (Robert Patrick), drinks
and is hard on the boy and his older
brother, who dies in a tragic accident.
John, who dearly loved and admired
his brother, is continually haunted by
Joaquin Phoenix portrays John
as an adult, who learns to play
the guitar when he joins the Air
Force. In 1954, he marries Vivian
(Ginnifer Goodwin), moves to
Memphis and struggles financially.
His big break comes when he
lands an audition with Sam
Phillips (Dallas Roberts), who ran
Sun Studios, which launched the
career of Elvis Presley (Tyler
Hilton). J.R. Cash goes from a
mediocre gospel singer to Johnny
Cash, an artist whose songs save
people. He starts to wear black
because he and his band members
all have black shirts.
Johnny begins a destructive lifestyle
of alcohol and drugs, which lands
him in jail. He tours with Jerry
Lee Lewis (Waylon Payne), Roy
Orbison (Johnathan Rice) and the
recently divorced June Carter (Reese
Witherspoon), among others. Johnny is
powerfully attracted to June, who hesitates
because she knows how fragile
marriage can be for recording artists.
The film weaves the continual ascent
of Johnny’s musical career with his personal
descent into a failed marriage
and an alcoholic and drug-addicted
hell to an ongoing redemption and resurrection
with June, whom he marries
As their relationship deepens, June
gets Johnny to actually step inside a
church again. Eventually, he comes to
a fragile peace with his father, too.
Joaquin Phoenix’s performance is
mesmerizing and magnetic as the legendary
Man in Black whose voice was
“fast like a train and sharp like a razor.”
Phoenix and Witherspoon sing all the
songs (“I Walk the Line,” “Ring of Fire,”
etc.) and their onstage chemistry is palpable.
Joaquin Phoenix learned the guitar
and Reese Witherspoon the Autoharp
for the film. It’s hard to imagine what
these two gifted young actors will do
for an encore.
It’s not the story that’s so compelling.
It’s the telling and the redemption
that are so forceful. Directed by
James Mangold (Girl, Interrupted), Walk
the Line is destined to garner more than
one Academy Award nomination. If
you were inspired by Coal Miner’s
Daughter (Loretta Lynn story), Sweet
Dreams (Patsy Cline) and last year’s Ray (Ray Charles), know that Walk the Line may be the best film about an American
musical icon yet. Drug and alcohol
use; a brief sexual encounter.
IN HER SHOES
IN HER SHOES (A-3, PG-13): Maggie
(Cameron Diaz) and her sister, Rose
(Toni Collette), are best friends but
polar opposites. One thing they
have in common is that they
wear the same size shoes. Their
domineering stepmother, Sydelle
(Candice Azzara), is married to
their wealthy widowed father,
Michael (Ken Howard).
Rose, a hard-working attorney,
buys shoes whenever she’s
moody because “they always fit.”
Maggie, a party girl who can’t
hold down a job for any length of
time, is virtually homeless and
moves in with friends and relatives,
including her sister. But Rose
kicks her out when she discovers
that Maggie has stolen her shoes
and slept with her boyfriend.
When Maggie moves in with her
parents, she searches their drawers for
cash. She finds hidden birthday cards
sent to her and Rose from an unknown grandmother named Ella (Shirley
MacLaine), who lives in Florida.
Hoping to find a rich grandma,
Maggie heads to Florida. At first Ella is
thrilled with Maggie’s visit, but then
she wonders when the girl is going to
leave. When Ella finds Maggie searching
her drawers for cash, she doesn’t
kick her out. Instead, she presents
Maggie with a challenge that will
reward the girl, if she earns a living.
I liked all the characters in this
contemporary Cinderella story (especially
Francine Beers as the wry and
kind Mrs. Lefkowitz), but Shirley
MacLaine shines as Ella. She gives
Rose a special gift, suggesting that
every woman needs a fairy grandmother
to love her.
The well-crafted script was written by
Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) and
based on the best-selling novel by
Jennifer Weiner. Problem sexuality and
ELIZABETHTOWN (A-3, PG-13) has some
similarities to In Her Shoes. Drew Baylor
(Orlando Bloom) designs a line of
sports shoes that fail. This results in
the company losing a billion dollars
in projected sales.
Drew, close to suicide, gets a call
from his frantic sister, Heather (Judy
Greer), who tells him their father
has suddenly died while on a visit
to his boyhood home in Elizabethtown,
Kentucky. Their mother, Hollie
(Susan Sarandon), wants Drew to bring
his father’s body back to Oregon for
When he flies to Kentucky, Drew
meets Claire (Kirsten Dunst), a perky
flight attendant who tries to help him.
When Drew meets his quirky Southern
relatives, they want to bury his father
in the family plot.
Elizabethtown is written and directed
by Cameron Crowe, who gave us Oscar
winners Jerry Maguire and Almost
Famous. Although Elizabethtown tries
hard and has a top-notch cast, it’s a
pastiche: three disparate stories put
together, creating a feeling of dissonance.
While In Her Shoes uses footwear as
a motif that unifies the story into a
comprehensive and satisfying tale, Elizabethtown would have benefited from
an identifiable motif or a coherent
theme. Some may say that the soundtrack
ties the film together, but I just
didn’t hear the music.
Both films appeal to an audience
that appreciates meaningful viewing:
the struggle with despair, failure, temptation
to suicide, family, growing up,
romance, transformation, forgiveness.
In Her Shoes, however, is the better film.
Some crude language and an implied sexual
MILLIONS (A-2, PG) deserves to
become a family Christmas
classic. Reviewed here in April
and newly released on DVD, it centers
on an English boy who finds a bag of
cash at Christmas. The lad is visited by
saints, who inspire him to help poor
C.S. LEWIS: BEYOND NARNIA
(Hallmark Channel, December
9): This warm, informative
and affectionate profile of C.S.
Lewis is told in the first person through
the lens of his classic fantasy novels
for children, The Chronicles of Narnia.
This special premieres the same day
the Disney/Walden production of The
Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch
and the Wardrobe opens in theaters. (See
C.S. Lewis and Narnia: Faith Beyond the Wardrobe.)
POPE JOHN PAUL II (CBS, Dec. 4 and 7):
This miniseries uses flashbacks to tell
the story of the late pontiff. Cary
Elwes portrays the younger Karol
Wojtyla and Jon Voight plays him during
his later years. Ben Gazzara plays
Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, the Vatican
secretary of state.