As a camera catches dazzling glimpses of yellow tree tops and blue skies, "One True Thing" invites its audience inside a space of solitary and absolute reconciliation. It is a place of the soul, of forgotten warmth and unconditional love where the story of the Gulden family unravels.
Learning that his wife has cancer, successful university professor George Gulden (William Hurt) asks his daughter, Ellen (Renee Zellweger), to quit her job as a New York reporter and move home to take care of her mother. At 55, experiencing "an inflammation of the sentence, and a hardening of the paragraph," the professor refuses to live in the real world and deal with the disease and its consequences. Ellen must take the place of her mother so that he can continue to lust over this or that edition of a rare book, tell the same stale literary anecdotes at dinner and add another sentence to his never-to-be-published novel, "The Comeback Inn."
While Ellen understands her father's world of literary allusions, she has nothing in common with her mother, Kate (Meryl Streep). A life spent between the kitchen and the community -- with Halloween parties, Christmas decorations and recipes for chocolate cake -- means very little to her. Kate is a different character; a woman of tremendous compassion and tenderness. "The first time I saw your mother," George tells Ellen, "she was so filled with light."
As Ellen learns to decipher her mother's delicate range of emotions, she discovers a world that has been kept secret from her. As she watches her mother dancing to a Bette Midler tune, presiding over small but ruthless cookie committees or putting on a Dorothy costume for a "come as your favorite literary character" party, Ellen realizes that all the magic she and her brother (Tom Everett Scott) have ever known came from Kate.
Inside this sad but loving Land of Oz, the camera approaches the characters with extraordinary kindness, as director Carl Franklin prepares the Guldens for the greatest humbling of their lives. Soft light, unintrusive angles, and incredibly rich colors give "One True Thing" the look of a harmonious oil canvas. And as we share the Guldens' fear of failure, their sadness and ambitions, we are reminded of a few trivial things -- life goes on as we make other plans, some battles are won inside places of the heart and there is always time for reevaluation. Thus, without preaching about family values, Franklin's film speaks to all of us. Don't be afraid, it says. Remember those who love you. Call home.