Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times…”
The screenplay by Susannah Grant rises above its source, one of those airport books designed to divert the reader’s mind from security and take-off anxieties to the fixable foibles and troubles of sisters Maggie (Cameron Diaz) and Rose (Toni Collette). Director Curtis Hanson and his excellent cast breathe such life into the characters that the tears which they elicit from us, especially during the reading of poems by Elizabeth Bishop and e.e. cummings, are well deserved.
Older sister Rose has watched out for her younger sister ever since their mother died when Maggie was six. Now a lawyer involved romantically with a senior partner in the firm, Rose is becoming fed up with Maggie’s childish antics that always lead to so much trouble. After Maggie engages in drunken sex in a bathroom stall at her high school reunion, she is kicked out of her childhood home by the domineering Sydelle (Candice Azzara), long married to their father Michael (Ken Howard). Rose is upset when Maggie shows up at her apartment in the wee hours of the morning to camp on her couch. Later, when she catches Maggie engaged in sex with her colleague from the office, she becomes so enraged that she also kicks Maggie out.
The upset Rose, taking a leave of absence, acquires a part time job at a dog grooming service, this leading to a full time job as a dog walker, something that she discovers is more enjoyable than the high-pressure job at her Philadelphia law office. Long a plain-Jane, Rose at last finds a love interest in Simon (Mark Feuerstein), who had been right under her nose at her old law firm. She discovers that the man she had once disdained as a nerd has a healthy interest in good food and a gentle disposition. When he proposes to her, she accepts. Calmed down by now, she tries to get in touch with Maggie, but finds that the number is no longer in service.
Maggie meantime discovers a grandmother in Florida, the older woman’s existence kept from her sister and herself by her father because of a family secret involving their mother and her mode of death. Shirley MacLaine gives one of her best performances in years as Ella, one of the queen bees at a retirement home, where she is courted by a kindly, dignified male resident. Ella is delighted at Maggie’s sudden appearance, but very savvy that her granddaughter sees her as an easy mark for money. She insists that Maggie stop loafing around the center’s swimming pool and earn her own money: she will match her earnings so that Maggie can go off to New York to try her hand at acting. However, as Maggie works as an orderly at the retirement home and gets to know the residents, especially a blind man who once taught literature at a college, for the first time in her narcissistic life she feels useful. She at first turns down the professor’s request that she read to him: an earlier failure to be able to read the teleprompter at an MTC audition has prepared us for this episode. The professor patiently helps her read some poetry so that she begins to overcome her dyslexia (probably a bit too facilely, but, hey, this is a movie).
Back in Philadelphia things are not going well for Rose and Simon. Rose has not revealed to him her break with her sister, so he wonders why she keeps putting off a meeting with her. Simon tries to get Rose to open up to him, but she cannot, leading him to declare that they cannot go on with their wedding plans if this continues. At this low point, with Rose reduced to walking dogs and confiding to the one girl friend she still has, we wonder how she will find Maggie again—and how she will react to the news that she has a live grandmother, as well as relate to the father who had kept this from his daughters for so many years.
Do not be misled by reviewers who dismiss movies like this as a “chick flick,” an appellation that reveals their macho chauvinism, rather than casting any light on the film in question. The filmmakers unabashedly aim for the heart of the viewer, and this is fine. In this parable of forgiveness and reconciliation there is a slight echo of the prodigal son in Maggie, and of the elder brother in Rose, both sisters needing, as Luke puts it in his parable to “come to him (read” her”) self.
1) Do you identify with Rose, or Maggie, and if so, in what ways? What meanings do you see in the title of the film?
2) How might Rose’s role in watching out for her younger sister after their mother’s death contributed to her becoming such a drone? How might Rose’s protectiveness contributed to Maggie’s arrested development? How is Rose similar to Peter in the forgiveness department?
3) Where do you see a tribute to the film Rocky?
4) What does Rose think of Simon at first? How does her leaving the law firm help her see him differently? Have you had a change of heart in regard to someone, requiring some distance to see the person in a new light?
5) In what ways is Ella shown as an instrument of grace? At what points do you see Maggie changing for the better? How do the poems contribute to this process?
6} What do you think of Simon’s decision in regard to wedding plans? Wise, or—? How does Rose have to change, both in regard to her sister and to Simon? How can the ending of the film be seen as a foretaste of the coming kingdom heralded by Christ?