Film review: Something to Talk About

Characters are shallow and lack development in awkward comedy-drama that misses its potential.

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 8 1995 12:00 a.m. MDT

The generic title here should be the giveaway. Low-key to a fault, "Something to Talk About" is no more original or compelling than its title.

And as a vehicle for Julia Roberts, the film is also rather benign. She's in nearly every scene, playing a troubled flibbertigibbet, but clearly lacks the comic oomph to turn her underwritten character into more. On a positive note, however, this allows supporting player Kyra Sedgwick to steal the show every time she's on the screen.

The setting is contemporary South Carolina, where Grace Bichon (Roberts) works for her gruff, do-things-my-way father, horse-breeding monarch Wyly King (Robert Duvall). Frustrated by her inability to make any decisions, she nonetheless sublimates her desire to break out and do her own thing.

On the domestic front, Grace is married to Eddie (Dennis Quaid), her college sweetheart, and has a feisty daughter named Caroline (Haley Aull). Grace's sister, Emma Rae (Sedgwick), seems more independent, though she still lives at home with their parents. And their mother, Georgia (Gena Rowlands), is a traditional Southern woman, seemingly oblivious to any trials or tribulations and completely submissive to her husband's will.

Grace has also tried to follow the traditions of Southern gentility, always doing what has been expected of her. But as the film opens, it's apparent she's dissatisfied with her life — though she isn't sure why.

Eventually, Grace's unhappiness crystallizes when she catches her husband cheating on her. Suddenly, she knows that she has to do something — she can't just accept this betrayal, take him back and pretend nothing happened.

This setup for "Something to Talk About" isn't particularly new but still has room for insightful exploration and seems to be the heart of this film, written by Callie Khouri ("Thelma & Louise") and directed by Lasse Hallstrom ("My Life as a Dog," "What's Eating Gilbert Grape"). But for some reason, it meanders all over the map.

As for Grace, she tends to bounce off the walls, reveling in her own indecision for most of the movie. She moves back in with her parents and manages to disrupt other lives by publicly confronting women who have had affairs or who have put up with their husbands' affairs. And in the process, she alienates her friends, her parents and, to some degree, even her daughter. (A running gag has Grace driving off and inadvertently leaving her behind.)

There is also an attempt at reconciliation (quickly deteriorating into lame, vomit humor), a tenuous flirtation with a horse trainer (never building the intended comic steam), and there is far too much time spent on a horse-jumping competition that plays out in the final act.

The characters here all cry out for more depth and development, with Duvall and Rowlands especially getting short shrift. But there is relief from Sedgwick, who has all the best lines, and Anne Shropshire as sardonic old Aunt Rae, both of whom act as wise-cracking observers. And there are some nice touches here and there and a few laughs.

Whether Khouri and Hallstrom were going for screwball comedy or melodrama laced with comic relief, the film is an awkward failure. And it's all the more frustrating that certain moments tap into human truths.

There is the potential for something worthwhile here, but the project obviously needed more work before going into development.

"Something to Talk About" is rated R for profanity and vulgarity, along with some mild violence.

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