DreamWorks SKG | Release Date: September 30, 2005
7.6
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Generally favorable reviews based on 16 Ratings
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7
SpangleFeb 9, 2017
An ode to mothers, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio is a heartbreaking, heartwarming, and truly powerful tale of a suburban mother in the 1950s-1960s. Evelyn Ryan (Julianne Moore) is a real woman and the mother of the source material'sAn ode to mothers, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio is a heartbreaking, heartwarming, and truly powerful tale of a suburban mother in the 1950s-1960s. Evelyn Ryan (Julianne Moore) is a real woman and the mother of the source material's author, Terry Ryan (portrayed in the film by Ellary Porterfield). The mother of 10 kids and constantly battling poverty, Evelyn competes in jingle contests. A nostalgic look at how this mother helped to ensure ends were met by being the best contest participant and constantly winning free goods, free food, and money, the film is a beautiful depiction of this incredibly strong woman that fought tooth and nail for her kids to eat at all costs.

Pairing together Julianne Moore in a starring role and Laura Dern in a supporting role with a female director, it quickly becomes clear that this film is about to be a feminist romp. It is glorious in this fashion as it shows just how horrible the conditions were for women in this era. They are restricted to the home. Men doubt they do anything at all and women themselves downplay what they do and their own intelligence. Meanwhile, when men are left with the kids, they are inept and incapable of relating to ther children, highlighting just how hard a mother's job was back then. Director Jane Anderson does a tremendous job not making the film preachy in this regard and instead shows how these women contribute, celebrating their accomplishments. They may not make the money, but they compete and raise the kids, which are crucial to the health and prosperity of the family. Yet, it also shows the toll it takes on the men with Kelly Ryan (Woody Harrelson) constantly battling his masculinity with co-workers mocking him for his wife's success as a contest entrant and his own inability to bring home enough money. She refuses to demonize the husband, however, instead opting to give a tender characterization of a broken man.

This broken man is one with a lot of anger. He hates himself thoroughly. His most egregious actions are fueled out of self-hatred and a low self-esteem. He feels like a chump for not being able to provide for his family, so he takes it out on himself in tremendous fashion. Watching a baseball game and getting blind with rage, drinking a six-pack daily, and locking the kids out of the house to cry on his own for fear his wife left him, are all moments that are incredibly powerful. Harrelson does a great job portraying this man that is so easy to hate and demonize, but both Evelyn and the director refuse to demonize him. He is a sympathetic character, if you can look past the rough exterior. For a man who carries himself so gruffly, he is a truly broken and shattered man on the inside and it is tragic to watch unfold.

Yet, the star here is Evelyn. Kelly is an alcoholic, self-deprecating, and filled with rage. The family can never get their head above water financially. The kids are mischievous and there are ten of them. But, through it all, Evelyn is smiling and happy. She loves her life, even with all of its faults. It is a testament to women's strength throughout in this regard as Evelyn is a bright star amidst this black sky. Julianne Moore brilliantly portrays this woman who gets absolutely nothing. She works hard and slaves everyday with nothing in return. She passionately wants a few things, but sacrifices day and night for her family. It is powerful and emotional to watch unfold and a struggle that is not lost on her children who bravely fight for her whenever Kelly gets mad. The bond between Evelyn and her children is gorgeously and gracefully portrayed throughout, with this bond being the real highlight of this film. Moore portrays Evelyn with equal grace, strength, and power throughout. Evelyn is a woman that, despite her restraining factors, is an inspirational to everybody for how she gives and gives without any expectation of getting something in return. This is why when she gets a few things from Kelly or her kids, the film becomes so powerful and moving as it is one of the few things she can actually call her own.

Terrifically written and acted, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio is a beautiful ode to mothers and the sacrifices they make, while also being a depiction of the struggles faced by all suburban stay-at-home mothers in this era. It is a truly moving experience and though the film is not perfect, it is one that really packs an emotional punch.
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7
Tss5078Jul 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 a terrific one, that you just couldn't make up. The book was written by one of a families ten children, aboutAfter 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. Expand
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10
TinaA.May 30, 2006
Julianne Moore is brilliant, and this movie is amazing.
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8
J.D.Oct 3, 2005
Wonderfully endearing performance by Moore and great production value make this "small" movie a charming, emttional account of a bygone era. Not high drama but plenty of heart.
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8
ChadShiiraOct 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 up, because the historical Kelly, we intuit, was a lot drunker than this film would care to admit. 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. Expand
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8
BobH.Mar 23, 2006
Moore and Harrelson were cast well and gave believable preformances in this film. It took me back to the 50'/60's on a wonderfully crafted nostalgic trip, with emotional highs and lows coming in rapid fashion.
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10
MarkB.Nov 10, 2005
If homemaker/perpetual contest winner Evelyn Ryan were around today, no doubt she'd be giving Ken Jennings a serious run for his money and Vanna White a serious case of sore wrists. However, since Evelyn lived and raised her 10 kids in If homemaker/perpetual contest winner Evelyn Ryan were around today, no doubt she'd be giving Ken Jennings a serious run for his money and Vanna White a serious case of sore wrists. However, since Evelyn lived and raised her 10 kids in the 1950s, her options were far more limited...which was unfortunate for her but very fortunate for us because we get to see the luminous Julianne Moore add Evelyn to the trademark gallery of Eisenhower-era desperate housewives that she opened up with Far From Heaven and The Hours. It's interesting and ironic that Evelyn is the exact opposite of the character Moore played in The Hours, incidentally; in the latter, her character ditched a perfectly nice husband who worshipped the ground she walked on (and permanently damaged the sweet, sensitive son she deserted); here, due to Evelyn's good Catholic upbringing and sense of parental responsibility, the idea of divorcing her loutish, obnoxious, resentful, always-in-the-way "better half" Kelly (Woody Harrelson) is never an option. (Apparently, due to said Catholicism, neither was birth control!) As a result, even though Evelyn was almost always able to support her family with the money, prizes and merchandise she endlessly picked up in newspaper, magazine and TV contests, she was more a survivor than a winner; Kelly perpetually drank up his paycheck while circumstances made it almost as impossible for Evelyn to leave town for a day or two off as Jimmy Stewart's George Bailey found it difficult to leave Bedford Falls in It's A Wonderful Life. But while Jane Anderson's irresistable, tremendously entertaining and moving account of Evelyn's life, times and troubles (based on a loving memoir by Evelyn's daughter Terry) rightfully depicts this almost unbelievably patient, level-headed woman as at least as much a heroine as Charlize Theron's mining company whistle-blower in North Country, one of the many beauties of this film is that neither Anderson nor Harrelson ever, ever demonize Kelly (even at his worst, which is often) or turn him into a villain. Essentially, he's the eleventh child in the household. With Oscar season officially underway, so are the big-screen biographies; with Edward R. Murrow's and Truman Capote's already here and Johnny Cash's just around the corner, this may be the most unassuming of the lot (as is its protagonist) but this absolutely one-of-a-kind film is my favorite. Anderson masterfully balances all kinds of conflicting moods and emotions; her delightful use of visual effects and offbeat narrative devices and her keen observation of 1950s lower-middle-class culture make this a joy to look at and listen to (and trust me, Gen Xers, at one time fish sticks and Jello WERE family dinnertime staples!), and her movie is alternately (and often simultaneously) wonderfully sweet, sad, satirical, sentimental...and truly inspirational in the very best sense of the word. Expand
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