It's been so long since we had a great tear-jerker that audiences are starting to embrace even mediocre ones. So even if "One True Thing" has a few flaws (a lot of them, to be honest), at least it's good enough to increase sales of facial tissue nationwide.
Actually, the biggest problem with this weepy melodrama is that Karen Croner's somewhat superficial script threatens to turn Anna Quindlen's best selling 1995 novel into just another disease-of-the-week movie.
Fortunately, the whole thing is bailed out by some smart direction (by "Devil in a Blue Dress" filmmaker Carl Franklin) and a terrific cast, which includes Meryl Streep in yet another standout performance.
That's not to slight the other actors, especially Renee Zellweger and William Hurt, but Streep manages to transcend the material and outshine her other fellow cast members to such a degree that you wish they and the material were at least as good as she is.
Zellweger stars as Ellen Gulden, an ambitious New York journalist whose life is turned upside down by a family crisis. Her mother, Kate (Streep), has been diagnosed with cancer. Consequently, Ellen's hypercritical father, George (Hurt), asks her to move home to take care of her.
And though Ellen grudgingly agrees to his plan, she quickly grows to resent both her parents — believing that her devotion to family has helped destroy her once-promising career and her personal life.
But as Ellen spends more time with her mother, she grows to admire her dedication to the community, as well as the zeal she has for tackling even the most trivial housechores.
She also discovers evidence that her father may be leading a dual life, using his position as a university professor to lure his female students into bed.
It's to Franklin and Steep's credit that there's any air of tension or mystery, since the ultimate outcome of the story is revealed at the very beginning (nearly all of the movie is told through flashbacks, from Ellen's perspective).
Streep's warm, understated performance nearly makes you forget all about the cliched scripting and dialogue, which almost manages to trivialize serious illness and other thought-provoking issues.
Also, though Zellweger makes Ellen seem completely unlikable early on, she eventually becomes sympathetic, while Hurt is as solid as ever, playing yet another flawed character.
"One True Thing" is rated R for sporadic profanities, including the R-rated curse word, one vulgar joke and brief female partial nudity.