“My experiment has shown some of the strange effects radiation can produce, and how dangerous it can be if not handled correctly.”
A harried single mother (Joanne Woodward) struggles to raise her two daughters: boy-crazy, baton-twirling Ruth (Roberta Wallach) and quiet, science-loving Matilda (Nell Potts).
Paul Newman’s adaptation of Paul Zindel’s semi-autobiographical Pulitzer Prize-winning play is a bleak yet well-acted character piece which once again provides Newman’s wife, Joanne Woodward, with a chance to shine. As a cynical widow who embroils her two daughters in the web of bitterness she’s created for herself, Woodward’s character is far from likable, but eminently “real”; she’s surviving in the only way she knows how. Both Wallach (daughter of Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson) and Potts (daughter of Newman and Woodward) are excellent and believable as well in their respective roles as Woodward’s radically different daughters. While the film’s odd title is puzzling at first, playwright Zindel’s metaphors are soon made apparent, as we realize that Matilda’s interest in the effect of noxious rays on living plants closely parallels her quest for self-preservation in the face of an impossibly dysfunctional mother. No easy answers are provided, but a small amount of movement and change occurs by the end of the film, thus leaving viewers with hope for the future.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Joanne Woodward as Beatrice Hunsdorfer
- Nell Potts as Matilda
- Roberta Wallach as Ruth
No, but it’s recommended.