A Map of the World

Powerful themes and great acting are sometimes not enough when marred by heavy-handed execution.

Sigourney Weaver is a Wisconsin housewife who babysits her girlfriend's daughters one day, and one of the girls drowns in the pond.

She can't cope. Of course, the town gradually turns against her, as much for her strange behavior after the incident as for the incident itself.

But worse, she's a school nurse, and she ends up going to jail when accused of abusing another child, because her farmer husband can't raise the enormous bail. And the husband has to run his farm while he single-handedly raises two little girls, because nobody in the town will assist a child abuser. And of course, the townspeople spit on him and paint hateful graffiti on his farmhouse. And the real criminals in jail look down on her, because they think she's a child abuser.

So, they're really having a bad hair day.

Then her farm suffers from three biblical plagues, her husband runs off with a cheerleader, and she and her children are sodomized by runaway insane AIDS victims. And then she is led into the Pentagon war room, sees that button which starts a nuclear attack, and OOPS! - she causes the end of the world! OK, none of that last part happened, but do you take my point? She's hit bottom. The bottom of the bottom. The point at which drama becomes melodrama, and pathos becomes bathos.

The Sigourney Weaver character is both highly complex and quite unlikeable. If you watch the critical scenes a second time, you'll see that her own self-absorption really did cause the death of the little girl in her pond. While the toddlers were unattended, she stopped to daydream about a painting she had made when she was a child - the famous "Map of the World". If she had not done that while looking for a bathing suit, she might have saved the girl. When her self-sacrificing husband comes to visit her in prison, she wants to talk about her spiritual growth and the books she's been reading instead of asking about him, her friends, and her children.

This is complex character development, to be sure, but it makes it difficult to feel the emotions you're meant to feel when the sappy background music strikes the appropriate chords.

The movie is about how it all gets resolved. The film has plenty of strengths, to be sure, but these strong themes surely presented a big challenge for a rookie director and, in my opinion, it could have used a subtler touch. Especially the background score.

Box office: one half million dollars, on a very limited distribution scale. Not the kind of movie designed to appeal to the mainstream young, male entertainment-seeking moviegoer.

Awards: No Oscar nominations, but the writers were nominated for some smaller awards for best screen play adapted from another medium, and both Sigourney Weaver and Julianne Moore were nominated for various acting honors.

Consensus: about two and a half stars on the average, but the reviews were sharply polarized. For example, Ebert gave it a sparkling three and a half stars. Berardinelli gave it a dismal two. And you could justify either of those ratings just as easily. Perhaps one individual could see it both ways on two different days, depending on one's own mood.

The movie features a great deal of nudity from Sigourney Weaver and David Straithairn.

IMDB summary: 6.8 out of 10.

Rotten Tomatoes summary. 57% positive, and 67% from the top critics.

DVD info from Amazon. There are no extraordinary features. The print is good. The aspect ratio is 16:9.

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