I'm a gigantic Stephen King fan (whose book this film was based on), which, I have recently discovered, comes as a shock to certain people. I have read all but 7 of his novels (he has something like 4,782 written in total), all of his short stories, and have watched every one of the movies based on one of his novels, all of the movies based on one of his short stories, all of the mini-series based on his novels, and even endured that gleaming pile of turd he wrote and directed, Maximum Overdrive. ("I'm gonna scare the hell out of you!" he claimed in the ad. Yeah, demonic trucks circling Emilio Estevez had me almost as scared as when those mighty ducks skated around him.) So, as sort of a King connoisseur, I can assure you that Dolores Claiborne was reviewed unfairly by the critics (who generally hated it), ignored wrongfully by the audience, and deserved to do a little bit better than completely bombing at the box-office.
Kathy Bates, while not quite living up to her Academy Award winning role in Misery, gives another wonderful performance as the title character. Taylor Hackford manages to do his best job directing to date (which means it's passable). Tony Gilroy, while taking some huge liberties with the book, such as adding an entire subplot involving Dolores's grown daughter, does a fairly good job with his adaptation, although the more he stuffs his script with subplots, the more hollow the story actually feels.
The "hollowness" of the movie is what finally ends up making it a "good flick" instead of an "instant classic." Dolores Claiborne dominates the book to the point that the entire story is told by her, rather than King. The movie really wants the character of Selena St. George (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Claiborne's daughter, to be an equal to that of Dolores. The whole mother-daughter dynamic, one that wasn't in the book, at least not in this form, really has to be convincing to keep the film engrossing. Unfortunately, Leigh's acting is too weak, and her character is far too far from being fleshed out to be as convincing as it needs to be. Leigh's performance is like the flame on a small candle, about to be swallowed by Bates's fiery performance, and superior role.
The producers took a gamble adding the "Leigh-factor" to the film, and it was one that didn't pay off. Because of that, Dolores Claiborne will forever be remembered as a great movie to watch late at night on cable TV, rather than being remembered as simply a great movie.
I'd give it 7 Juicy squirts out of a possible 10
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Copyright 2001 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved]