Were it better, this dull mother/daughter weepy would be the perfect chick flick. But its biggest problem is in its set-up: while Zellweger's Ellen loves to complain about her mother's restricted homemaker ways, Streep's fading Katherine is a perfectly lovely and rounded person from the very beginning. However, Ellen's adored father is a selfish and self-centred lout.
So we squirm in our seats for close to an hour, waiting for Ellen to catch on to something that's been obvious to the rest of us all along. The only tension comes from a plot-framing device in which Ellen is questioned by the police. This whodunit angle, however, is much too little, far too late.
Hurt, once such a compelling presence, turns in another wan performance as George, but the film really depends on the performances of - and the interplay between - - Streep and Zellweger. It should be the young actress' movie; but she can't hold our sympathy as the self-absorbed Ellen. While competent enough, she's so uncharismatic that we end up wondering if she really has a future as a star. By contrast, Lauren Graham is far more interesting as her best friend.
But if Zellweger proves she's not quite an A-list screen actress, Streep shows she is in a class of her own. Yes, we have seen this dying mother story-line too many times before, but she is so natural that we feel like we're eavesdropping on authentic family confrontations - - at least until Zellweger starts talking again. Streep shows once again that she is an actress of near-miraculous powers, capable of giving even this otherwise forgettable melodrama some real power.
A box of hankies will be required for this weepy drama, very much in the same vein as Stepmom. It's intensely moving yet desperately flawed, and the best thing is Streep, who towers over the average Hurt and disappointing Zellweger.