I wish that they had made a movie called Dad. Ed Harris is terrific. Not that Julia Roberts, the Stepmom and Susan Saradon, the Mom, aren’t good. On the contrary, they are wonderful. But Ed Harris’ performance is luscious.
The kids, Anna (Jena Malone) and Ben (Liam Aiken), don’t like Dad’s pretty new wife, Isabel (Juila Roberts). Jackie (Susan Sarandon), their real mom, hates her. Isabel, a busy fashion photographer with absolutely no experience being a mother, wants desperately to be liked, or at least treated with respect. Ed Harris is the Dad caught hopelessly, helplessly in the middle. When Jackie is diagnosed with terminal cancer, she painfully realizes that Isabel will soon have to fill her shoes in the role of mother to her kids. Jackie and her children slowly, agonizingly learn to respect and even love Isabel. And Dad is still caught hopelessly, helplessly in the middle.
In one scene, after Isabel loses Ben at the park and Jackie threatens court orders, Ed Harris is gutwrenching as he pleads with the vindictive Jackie not to take things to a lawyer. When Jackie reveals her disease to the kids, and Anna feels lied to and runs out of the room, Dad chases after her. He sternly admonishes Anna to never walk out on her mother. To which, Anna spitefully replies, “No, Dad, that’s your job.” His face sinks along with his heart. And the audience’s hearts and faces likewise follow suit.
In a few scenes, including the aforementioned one, Anna almost stole the show from Dad. A pretty thirteen-year-old experiencing her first boy troubles on top of everything else she’s going through, Anna is cute and funny in several key scenes, including the obligatory Chris Columbus sing-a-long, which here takes on special significance as a family bonds around the imminent loss of a loved one.
Columbus’s family drama did well at the box office and received a Golden Globe nomination for Susan Sarandon’s performance. Unfortunately, however, it was released at about the same time as the fabulous One True Thing, and I think the two movies, in some way, cancelled each other out. Stepmom garnered not a single nod for Oscar—even for Ed Harris’ performance as Dad.