Mixed or average reviews - based on 28 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 16 out of 28
  2. Negative: 1 out of 28
Watch On
  1. 88
    Avoids obvious sentiment and predictable emotion and shows this woman somehow holding it together year after year, entering goofy contests that for her family mean life and death.
  2. 88
    Anderson is the rare filmmaker who doesn't want to use the actress as an instrument or to exploit her independent-movie cachet. She has freed Moore to be what she hasn't been with many directors: credibly human.
  3. Reviewed by: Robert Koehler
    Even more than in "Far From Heaven," Moore's housebound wife is a study in pent-up brilliance, with extraordinary devotion to her family.
  4. Reviewed by: Claudia Puig
    An engaging film bolstered by the stellar performance of Julianne Moore.
  5. Reviewed by: Sara Brady
    Overall, a modest but lovely achievement for Anderson, Moore, and Harrelson, and a family entertainment in the best senses of the words.
  6. Reviewed by: Angel Cohn
    Moore and Harrelson are very well cast.
  7. A heartwarming, inspirational tale.
  8. 75
    With its predictable confrontations and tacky fantasy sequences, you feel writer/director Jane Anderson steering the material toward schmaltzy movie-of-the-week territory at every turn.
  9. The movie constantly verges on being a parody, but Moore's performance stays miraculously away from caricature.
  10. A spirited comic drama, toplined by Moore's lovely performance.
  11. Gently, affectionately and with wit, this lovely movie gives the 1950's its due, but not for a moment does it go overboard and make you want to go back there.
  12. 70
    Even though Prize Winner ultimately asks us to swallow that golfball-size happy pill, Anderson and her not-so-secret weapon Moore are actually clawing their way toward something deeper and far more complex than a cheerful, embroidered slogan.
  13. Reviewed by: David Edelstein
    An honest tear-jerker.
  14. 70
    It has its own subversive power, as it elevates one family's struggle for working-class survival and valorizes a woman of simple faith and inner strength.
  15. The actress' [Julianne Moore's] goodwill, alone, holds this schizophrenic story together - if just barely.
  16. Anderson sees her subject as little more than a game-show contestant. One suspects the real Evelyn Ryan deserved far better.
  17. Shameless Eisenhower-era corn.
  18. 50
    Moore's scenes with a miscast-but-game Harrelson offer a study in how spouses learn to handle even their partners' most destructive impulses, but in most other moments, Anderson fails to get beyond the surface of her characters' lives.
  19. Reviewed by: Michael Phillips
    No one expects documentary realism in these memoir-to-movie transfers. It's reasonable, however, to expect more vibrant and expressive fictionalized treatment than this.
  20. 50
    This screen adaptation never quite jells, veering from family drama to stale 50s consumer kitsch, but it's anchored by strong performances from Julianne Moore.
  21. 50
    It's tough to imagine a guy who won't squirm through this tale of 1950s housewife Evelyn Ryan.
  22. Only an actor of Moore's calibre could begin to add a bit of credible flesh to these hallowed bones.
  23. Anderson's adaptation is heavy on production numbers in which jingles come to life and light on conveying any real feelings of Eisenhower-era darkness the prizewinner herself might have felt during her decades of marriage to an abusive, drunken man.
  24. Reviewed by: Tim Grierson
    There's something terminally small about this big-screen melodrama, with its trite characterizations of fighting parents, empty pockets and kind hearts.
  25. But it's one thing to write a loving ode to your mother; another to direct an ode to an ode.
  26. The film congeals from dripping sentimentality into emulsified schmaltz when it brings in the actual Ryan family, all 10 children (now in their fifties and sixties), for a final scene. The intentions are clearly honorable, and we certainly wish these people well, but this isn't a memorial service, it's a movie.
  27. 38
    This maudlin, fact-inspired and anti-feminist dramedy is no "Far From Heaven" or "The Hours."
User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 15 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 7 out of 8
  2. Negative: 0 out of 8
  1. Jul 20, 2013
    After seeing this film, I knew it had to be a true story, and sure enough it was. The story of The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio is aAfter seeing this film, I knew it had to be a true story, and sure enough it was. The story of The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio is a terrific one, that you just couldn't make up. The book was written by one of a families ten children, about their mother and how she raised their entire family by winning sweepstakes, which were extremely popular in the 50's and 60's. The Ryan family was your typical suburban family, Kelly (Woody Harrelson) worked in a mill and spends most of his paycheck on alcohol. That leaves Evelyn (Julianna Moore) to raise 10 kids on almost no money. Evelyn was in advertising before she became a housewife and had a knack for writing slogans and jingles. As a result of her circumstances, she entered every contest she could find and surprisingly won a large number of them, despite the odds. She won the house they live in, as well as most of the appliances, and even a few cars they sold. The story was truly fantastic and a wonderful tribute to a woman, who in some ways could be considered a modern day working mother. Evelyn was played by Julianna Moore, who gives the performance of her life. Once again, an independent film is overlooked by the Academy, but had this been a major release, there is no doubt in my mind that Moore would have won the Oscar, she is really that good. A good portion of the story is focused on this extraordinary woman, but we do meet her husband and we see her kids at various ages and walks of live. It seems like a movie that could quickly fizzle out, but life is never slow or boring in the Kelly household. On a side note, the author of the book, Evelyn's oldest daughter really made a name for herself with this book and made a cameo at the end of the film. Unfortunately, her career was short lived, as she passed away shortly after the films release. The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio is the kind of tribute we'd all love to give our parents, but most of our parents didn't do the extraordinary things Evelyn Ryan did. It's a heartwarming story that shows no matter how bad things get, there is always a way, and that's a message we can all relate to. Full Review »
  2. MarcK
    Jul 20, 2007
    I know it's so cliche to say, "it wasn't as good as the book," but I must say that here. The book was tremendous...this movie was I know it's so cliche to say, "it wasn't as good as the book," but I must say that here. The book was tremendous...this movie was merely a bit above average. Yes, Julianne Moore does an excellent job in the title role. But Woody Harrelson isn't so good as the drunk Dad/Husband. In the book, he was pretty much a peripheral character, but in movies, there is a demand for dramatic tension, which is why that role is much more prominent than in the book. Full Review »
  3. ChadShiira
    Oct 19, 2006
    Since the filmmaker didn't want to throw dad(Woody Harrelson) under a bus, "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio doesn't quite add Since the filmmaker didn't want to throw dad(Woody Harrelson) under a bus, "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio doesn't quite add up, because the historical Kelly, we intuit, was a lot drunker than this film would care to admit. There's a disconnect between the family's attitude towards Kelly and his actual on-screen actions. Mr. Kelly drinks, but he's not a roaring drunk like Charles Bukowski. What man alive wouldn't take to the bottle if his disposition was being married with ten kids? Things get a little overblown when Tuff (Ellary Porterfield) jumps on her father at the flashpoint of a strapped-for-cash-inspired family crisis. Her actions suggest a history of spousal abuse, which is, at best, inferred. Nonetheless, "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio" is a good film that flirts with greatness when Tuff emerges from the obscurity of her voluminous siblings and engages in mother-daughter heart-to-hearts with Evelyn(Julianne Moore) on a road trip across the state line. Like "Almost Famous", the film starts off as a personal story, and then tells the larger story of an impasse in American history. In the Crowe film, Lester Bangs saw how rock and roll was on the brink of codification but mentored young William Miller to be impervious to its evils. In this film, Evelyn foresees "the death of literacy"(when writing contests are replaced by instant riches that require no talent, in which she accurately diagnoses as a symptom), but inspires three of her daughters to be writers anyway. Moore, once again("Far From Heaven", of course, being the left bookend), proves to be a poetess of the pre-bra burning woman. "The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio" is a real sleeper. It committed "hara-kiri" by sticking with such an ungainly title. Full Review »