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Rachel, Rachel

     There's far more to Paul Newman than a half-century of sterling acting and salad dressing. Twice, he's proved his mettle as a film director, with an engrossing adaptation of Ken Kesey's Sometimes a Great Motion (1971) and, before that, a sincere "woman's picture," Rachel, Rachel (1968). The latter effectively features Newman's wife, Joanne Woodward, as a mid-thirties, virginal school teacher trapped in a stultefying small town and living with her dotty mother (Kate Harrington).

     Screenwriter Stewart Stern (Rebel Without a Cause) mostly sticks close to A Jest of God, a book by Margaret Laurence, who was Canada's most popular pre-Margaret Atwood female novelist. Laurence's story, set in the province of Manitoba outside of Winnepeg, has a Canadian specificity, especially in the almost-forbidden, across-the-tracks romance of Rachel, from a proper Scots family, and Nick Kazlik, son of Ukrainian immigrants. The movie occurs somewhere in America, and the background of the lovers is irrelevant. What remains from the book is Rachel's somewhat plodding journey to a shaky freedom and discovery of her self-worth.

(August, 2002)

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