Wherever The Road May Lead

Having made nothing but bad choices all their lives, the two heroines of Leaving Normal figure they may have better luck leaving their fate to chance. Darly (Christine Lahti) and Marianne (Meg Tilly), the deracinated protagonists of Edward Zwick's picaresque road movie, will inevitably be compared to Thelma and Louise, but the resemblance is only superficial. These women aren't fugitives, they're just lost; if anything's pursuing them it's their own demons. Dim, vulnerable Marianne has been moving from place to place since she was a kid. She's just fled a brutal husband in Normal, Wyo., when she hooks up with the embittered, worldly-wise cocktail waitress Darly, who's heading to the house in Alaska left to her by a boyfriend she ditched 18 years earlier, along with a baby. The hapless but optimistic Marianne thinks she'll stay with her sister's family in Portland, but one night in their oppressive household persuades her to stick with Darly and see where the road takes her.

"Leaving Normal" is about two rootless women who come to realize that leaving always ends them up in the same damn place. A quirky buddy movie, it sounds grittier than it plays, for Zwick and writer Edward Solomon have shaped it as a kind of fairy tale, stocked with strange, pixilated characters who help Darly and Marianne find their way home. Like the fat waitress (Patrika Darbo) who gives herself pep talks on self-esteem as she searches for Mr. Right. Or the overly sensitive truck driver Harry (Lenny Von Dohlen), who captures Marianne's heart by bursting into tears when he reads "The Grapes of Wrath."

Solomon's screenplay treads a delicate line between wit and preciousness; at its weakest, Zwick's direction goes for the canned poignance of TV. But there's a lot to relish in this funny, bittersweet, sharply written comedy. It's great to watch Lahti sink her teeth into this sardonic character: Darly is her best role in years. Though Marianne's ditsiness is sometimes overdone, Tilly fills this waif with ever-changing emotional colors. Like all fairy tales, "Leaving Normal" finds its way to a happy ending, but it's not a conventional one. Home may be where the heart is, but it's a far cry from the traditional notion of family these women have long since fled.

Wherever The Road May Lead | News