Let me say at the very outset that I thought the cast did exceptionally well with the plot and script presented to them. As for that plot and that script - quite frankly this was the most insulting piece of gratuitous rubbish that I have ever seen. Ellen Barken plays Gloria Maria Jackson, a trailer-trash drunk, who has had three children (a son and two daughters) with her husband Billy, also a trailer-trash drunk and a failed C&W singer who still dreams. The son, the eldest, is away at College, and returns home only for special occasions - Thanksgiving and Christmas. For excitement and to relieve the suffering caused by the disappointment of not having made it big, Billy beats up Gloria Maria as the occasion demands, afterwards complaining bitterly "now see what you made me do?" He gets arrested, is released, returns home, beats her up some more, is arrested and all around the mulberry bush. And then one day, after one more arrest he commits suicide - and Momma Jackson falls to pieces. She wants lovin' and her Billy is dun and gone. So, she gets a trailer attached to a motel as a place of residence for her and her two daughters and proceeds to fly high wide and handsome. Hits the bottle even more, smokes incessantly, beats up her kids for no reason, particularly her youngest, nine-year-old Bird (played with great maturity by Tina Majorino), allows them no friendships, constantly demeans them (every conversation with Bird ends with the nine-year-old being called a fool). And then the constant whingeing and whining that there is no money for anything, no Christmas, no electricity, no life. Just booze, cigarettes and more of the same. So, what's the problem here? This does happen. The problem is, to take a quote from another movie, "just a little bit too much reality for a Friday night!" Why? Because the film drags on and on and on with one unbelievable scene after another, utterly and totally over the top, let's wind this up until it's at breaking point. In the meantime, Bird befriends a mysterious neighbour (a saccharine Oprah Winfrey who somehow mugged the rest of the cast into agreeing to her topping the bill), spends her days hoeing and raking about twenty square feet of some vegetable patch, and who comes to the family's rescue when things can get no worse. Drunken Momma has savagely beaten up Bird one more time too many, for no reason whatsoever (nothing new there) and has driven off somewhere to cool down. At this point, the fifteen-year-old older daughter, Phoebe (very well acted by Julia Stiles), who has taken her own share of beatings (but who recently reached breaking point and smacked Momma around the chops when Momma went too far with a fifteen-year-old) arrives back from being out with her new boyfriend, sees the carnage and runs for help to Miss Zora (Oprah Winfrey) taking Bird with her. Miss Zola hits the roof, waits for Momma, who eventually staggers (or storms) uninvited into Miss Zola's house (although she had absolutely no idea that her kids were there), is summarily manhandled out into the yard by Miss Zola who lectures her severely with some fairytale about when she was Momma's age she didn't pay attention to her own daughter, and now that daughter has left home and won't come back, and the same thing will happen to Momma and something along those stirring lines, and Momma breaks down and Momma dun say that Momma be sorry - sorry, sorry sorry. And Momma must get her life back in order and the kids go off with Miss Zora who is going to visit her daughter and hopes that she won't be slung out on her ear when she gets there. And to tell the truth I couldn't care if she was or not - as long as they don't make another film about it. There was one comfort, insofar as plots and scripts are concerned. That is that it answered one question that I had often wondered about - I now know what the bottom of the barrel is. This film attempted to portray what is a human tragedy, domestic violence, including alcoholism, the neglect and beating of wives by their husbands, and their children by either or both parents. And it showed the horror in all its unedifying glory until it was impossible for viewers to have even one scintilla of sympathy with the central character, Gloria Maria. By her actions she was portrayed as a drunk (which she was), a total bully (which she was), a child-beater (which she was), an utterly selfish and psychotic tyrant who should not be allowed even to visit children much less have care of them. I was hoping, although I knew it was never going to happen, that now that the fifteen-year-old had learned to fend for herself she would also defend her younger sister and beat this woman to a pulp.
But it didn't happen. Along came Oprah, waved the magic words, said her abracadabra and the problem was half way to being sorted. Life isn't like that. If that were true to life the kids would have been found dead. Rubbish like this hardly inspires much confidence.