Struggling to finish a thesis on women's handiwork in tribal cultures and to come to terms with her imminent marriage, Berkeley student Finn Dodd (Ryder) returns to spend the summer with her grandmother (Burstyn) and great aunt (Bancroft). Their idyllic retreat is also the work place of the Grasse Quilting Bee, and as its members make her wedding quilt, Finn becomes privy to their tales of love and betrayal. Unlike the glib accounts of bonding in Waiting to Exhale and Now and Then, this adaptation of Whitney Otto's best-seller is a lyrical, intelligent attempt to create a specifically 'female' cinema. Moorhouse keeps the narrative, which spans 130 years, on a tight rein, never allowing it to wander aimlessly from one anecdote to the next. Admittedly, the metaphor (life's rich tapestry) is facile, but the direction, Janusz Kaminski's pastoral photography and Jane Anderson's finely tuned dialogue combine to produce a subtle, surprisingly witty film. Nevertheless, it's the remarkable performances which really enhance the mixture of nostalgia and world-weary realism: Ryder, as gamine as ever, delivers her most credible performance to date, while the luminous Simmons and imposing Angelou infuse the film with grace and understated charm.
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