December 18, 1998 -- "A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries," A Merchant-Ivory film from October Films is an odd blend of European film making and Americana. It takes place on both sides of the Atlantic in two different decades.
It is one of what seems to be an endless stream of coming-of-age films. It is also autobiographical, being based on Kaylie Jones's (daughter of author James Jones) novel of the same name. Unlike most films of this type, however, the central character is a girl, not a boy. The story is also a slice of life. Characters pop into the story and then disappear without a trace. In most conventional films, nearly every character with a speaking part advances the plot and reappears at some time. In this film, however when Channe (Leelee Sobieski) says goodbye to her friend Francis Fortescue (Anthony Roth Costanzo), it is really goodbye.
In most films, a flamboyant character like the artistic Fortescue would not be cast away so early in the film. Although the characters are interesting and the actors do a fine job, there doesn't seem to be much dramatic tension in the film or much humor. The one scene that could have been dramatic is foretold so often that it looses its punch by the time it finally arrives.
The story is about an American family living in Paris. The father, Bill Willis (Kris Kristofferson) is an author. His wife, Marcella, is played by Barbara Hershey. In addition to Channe, the family also has an adopted son, Billy, played by Jesse Bradford. The children have a tough time dealing with kids in the bi-lingual international schools in Paris.
Channe has an interesting misadventure with a young boy. It turns out that what they say about snails and puppy dog tails is really true. She later meets the artistic, sensitive Francis Forescue and they become close friends until the above-mentioned parting, which happens when Channe's father decides to take the family back to America.
In America, the kids still have trouble fitting in at school. Channe has some sexual experiences with boys. One of the highlights of the film is the open and trusting relationship between Channe and her father. Bill is unconventional in his attitudes toward his daughter's sexual adventures, to say the least. Channe's brother is a stoic lump, plopped in front of the TV eating snack food. Most viewers will not have to look very far to find such a character.
As a character the study, the film works well. The characters are interesting and well-drawn, especially Francis Fortescue and the members of the Willis family. The film seems to capture life in Paris better than in the U.S. however. The film's portrayal of life in the U.S. in the 1960's and 1970's did not seem authentic.
The actors do a fine job. Sobieski ("Deep Impact") looks and acts like a young Helen Hunt, Costanzo really eats up the scenery as Fortescue and Kristofferson and Hershey were very effective in their roles as Bohemian parents. The problem with the film is that nothing really happens. Just when you think something's going to happen, the scene changes. When something finally happens at the end of the film, the punch has been telegraphed so obviously you don't feel much of an emotional hit. This film rates a C+.
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