For a good while, "Rambling Rose" plays like an installment of PBS' "Masterpiece Theater." The only things that seems to be missing are the fund-raising appeals.
In time, however, "Rambling Rose" captivates, and by the time it is ended, the viewer will be thoroughly charmed.
Based on the autobiographical book by Calder Willingham, who also did the script, "Rambling Rose" is a rites-of-passage tale, southern style. The time is 1935, and the title character is a 19-year old woman who is hired to act as housekeeper at the home of the Hillyers.
"Father" Hillyer manages a hotel, "Mother" is both genteel and intellectual, and their three children include Buddy, 13, who will have his first sexual experience with Rose, an uninhibited young woman who would have been more at home during the '60s.
Rose comes on to Daddy, a good man at heart. He will not be tempted by this young woman, whose former suitors take to scrapping with each other on the front lawn of the house.
Buddy, played by Lukas Haas, is smitten by Rose. He is desperately in love with her, and when Rose finally marries, he is heartbroken.
That's what "Rambling Rose" is all about -- happiness, heartbreak and understanding on the part of Mother, who is aghast when a physician suggests that Mother and Father give the doctor permission to remove Rose's reproductive equipment.
This is one of the more touching scenes in the film. Laura Dern is Rose. She isn't that pretty, but she suggests prettiness. She also suggests susceptibility and vulnerability. Mother is played by Diane Ladd, who is Dern's real off-screen mother, and it is nice to see her playing someone quite normal.
It is also nice to see Dern doing someone ordinary. In fact, it's nice to see both women do something beyond David Lynch, who cast both in his "Wild at Heart." Robert Duvall plays Daddy, and you'll find him completely believable. Equally believable is Haas, the boy who will always love Rose.
"Rambling Rose" speaks in shorthand toward close. That's very nice, but then, this a very nice film.
Martha Coolidge did the direction and John Vallone did the production design. Both have managed to capture a mood and a place that was the south in 1935.
"Rambling Rose" opens here today. Stay with it, and you are certain to enjoy it.
*** A sexually aggressive 17-year old girl becomes housekeeper to a family in a 1935 southern town.
CAST: Laura Dern, Diane Ladd, Lukas Haas, Robert Duvall, John Heard, Kevin Conway.
DIRECTOR: Martha Coolidge
RATING: R (sex, language, nudity)
) RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes