Be prepared to shed a few tears for "A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries," although it's hard to say whether this beautifully crafted yet unfocused hodgepodge from the Merchant-Ivory team truly deserves them.
Based on Kaylie Jones' semi-autobiographical novel, "A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries" spans two decades and two continents to tell the story of Channe Willis, daughter of war hero and successful novelist Bill Willis (Kris Kristofferson). The film is divided into three segments, beginning in 1960s Paris where Channe's family has adopted a French orphan named Billy. As the extremely bright Channe (convincingly played by Luisa Conlon) grows to love and care for her new sibling, she also encounters life's injustices through an abusive school teacher and a predatory French urchin.
The next segment focuses on the adolescent Channe's (Leelee Sobieski) relationship with effeminate schoolmate Francis (Anthony Roth Costanzo). While the two form a bizarre bond of friendship, Channe also begins to notice and be noticed by boys. Just as she starts becoming accustomed to her newfound self, her father, suffering from a heart ailment, moves the family to the United States, where both Channe and Billy (Jesse Bradford) feel alienated.
Screenwriters James Ivory and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala have packed plenty of minute occurrences into their adaptation of Jones' novel, but none of them go anywhere. Many characters, particularly an overprotective nanny, are simply dropped once they are beginning to develop. But the film's biggest problem is characters that are sustained the length of the film but remain enigmatic. As the Willis family matriarch, Barbara Hershey is a loving mother one minute, and a drunken bitch the next. Hershey does her best but the character is a mystery.
On the other hand, Kristofferson's Willis, who is based on Jones' father James Jones, author of "From Here to Eternity" and "Thin Red Line," is portrayed as a saint. The anticipated clash between soldier and daughter never occurs. And while their wonderful relationship is heartwarming, it also robs the story of the conflict that is sorely needed. "A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries" is a frustrating cinematic experience. Good acting and great filmmaking can't hide the fact that a simple story has become unfocused and ultimately unsatisfying.