Mixed or average reviews - based on 28 Critics What's this?

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Generally favorable reviews- based on 13 Ratings

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  • Starring: , ,
  • Summary: Based on a true story, this film features Julianne Moore as a 1950's mother who defies the conventions of the day and finds a way to keep her family together by applying her remarkable resourcefulness and uncommon wit. (Go Fish Pictures)
Score distribution:
  1. Positive: 16 out of 28
  2. Negative: 1 out of 28
  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. Reviewed by: Angel Cohn
    Moore and Harrelson are very well cast.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 50
    It's tough to imagine a guy who won't squirm through this tale of 1950s housewife Evelyn Ryan.
  6. 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.
  7. 38
    This maudlin, fact-inspired and anti-feminist dramedy is no "Far From Heaven" or "The Hours."

See all 28 Critic Reviews

Score distribution:
  1. Positive: 7 out of 8
  2. Negative: 0 out of 8
  1. 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 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
  2. TinaA.
    May 30, 2006
    Julianne Moore is brilliant, and this movie is amazing.
  3. 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. Expand
  4. 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 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
  5. 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 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
  6. 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 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. Expand
  7. MikeS
    Oct 6, 2005
    Gives new meaning to "wildly uneven"; it's as schizoid as Harrelson's character. To the extent it works at all, it does so because of Moore. Expand

See all 8 User Reviews