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How to Make an American Quilt
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this girl-power-themed drama is heavy on the smoking, some drinking, and on illicit affairs. Several of the women cheat on their partners with others, including Hy sleeping with her sister's husband, Finn sleeping with Leon while engaged to Sam, and Constance sleeping with Ann's husband Dean. Dean is rumored to have had several affairs. The film also depicts the way in which women have had their dreams stifled by a society that wedded them to their home.
- Parents say
- Kids say
What's the story?
In an effort to sort out her feelings about marrying fiancé Sam (Dermott Mulroney), doctoral candidate Finn (Winona Ryder) spends the summer with her grandmother and great-aunt (Ellen Burstyn and Anne Bancroft, respectively) in their rural California town. Finn's grandmother and great-aunt, with the help of their many friends (among them women played by Maya Angelou, Alfre Woodard, Lois Smith, and Kate Nelligan) begin work on a wedding quilt for Finn. The quilting time draws out the stories of each woman, helping Finn understand her fear of commitment, the legacies of the women in her life, and her flirtation and growing feelings for Leon (Jonathan Schaech).
Is it any good?
The women in this film are fascinating, and you want to hear more about them. They exemplify the very real reasons a woman might be afraid to tie herself down to one man. And the star power of the women playing them (including a cameo by Kate Capshaw as Finn's mom, Sally) is dazzling. To have a chance to see these talented actors come together to play off one another is a delight.
However, despite all that, it's hard to consider this a feminist film. There's a fine line between telling the silenced stories of women and dressing up a soap opera in Thelma and Louise clothing. At one point, Constance deadpans, "The hardest part of being a woman is having woman friends." At another, Anna says, "I've come to believe that (her philandering husband) Dean is more typical than not. The female keeps the nest and the male goes out and flaunts his feathers." What could be more "biology is destiny" than that? So be aware that the woman-power ethos is a veneer for a great old Southern gothic story and enjoy it for that.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about whether a film like this is really feminist or whether it's just reasserting old ideas of what it means to be a woman. Do you think the ideas about women and the ideas about men that it professes are true? Do you think it's a biological imperative for men to "flaunt their feathers," as Ann asserts?
- In theaters: October 6, 1995
- On DVD or streaming: February 23, 1999
- Cast: Anne Bancroft, Ellen Burstyn, Winona Ryder
- Director: Jocelyn Moorhouse
- Studio: Universal Pictures
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 117 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: a scene of drug use, some sensuality and nudity.
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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