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Writers are usually self-absorbed, solitary jerks. And dull.
Trouble is, writers keep writing movies about themselves. Because, I guess, they're written by writers. If only more vacuum salesmen took up the cause.
But until then, how do you keep it fresh? (Here comes the gripping "writer's block" sequence! And the "rejection slip" montage! Or that richly satisfying tearing-open-the-wrapping-on-your-first-novel bit - and get this! The title of the book is the title of the movie! Hah!) Well, you either pull a Naked Lunch or Barton Fink and go completely and wonderfully whacked, or you do like The Whole Wide World and use writing as a convenient backdrop for a wonderful real-life character study and nothing more.
The writer in question here is Robert E. Howard, (Vincent D'Onofrio) best known as the guy who wrote Conan The Barbarian. (Total Eclipse, this isn't. Thank Christ). It's the dirty '30s, and Howard spends most of his time alone, pounding out pulpy, lurid "yarns" of swords and sorcery and sex for magazines like Weird Tales. Novalyne Price (Reneé Zellweger, terrific) is the woman who falls for "the best pulp writer in the whole wide world."
Their relationship is complex and real - never consummated, never simple. She's a headstrong, spunky "firebrand" yet with Howard, she's an adoring, long-suffering doormat to his fits of rage and paranoia, a patient ear to his uninspired theories. As for Howard, he's a complete asshole one minute, a clever and charming complete asshole the next. But she loves him, (though we're not exactly sure why - the film's biggest flaw) and he loves her, and nothing really comes of it. A romance without romance - how cool is that? What could be sweeter?
Forget the story, Zellweger's charming performance and refreshing, laid-back style are the real stars of this film. When she looks at Howard, it's a look of true, bewildered love. Just in case you missed her in Jerry Maguire, here's the memo: all wholesome and squinty and approachable (and she always falls for losers!), she's going to be big. Bigger than The Whole Wide World.
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