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Unstrung Heroes
Unstrung Heroes
Actors: Andie MacDowell, John Turturro, Michael Richards, Maury Chaykin, Nathan Watt
Director: Diane Keaton
Genres: Comedy, Drama
PG     2003     1hr 33min

Outstanding performances and exciting stars light up this heartwarming motion picture. When a youngster needs a break from the pressures of his parents' household, he moves in with his offbeat uncles (including Michael Ric...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Andie MacDowell, John Turturro, Michael Richards, Maury Chaykin, Nathan Watt
Director: Diane Keaton
Creators: Bill Badalato, Donna Roth, Franz Lidz, Jackie Rubin, Joseph J. Kelly, Richard LaGravenese
Genres: Comedy, Drama
Sub-Genres: Comedy, Family Life
Format: DVD - Color - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 06/03/2003
Original Release Date: 09/15/1995
Theatrical Release Date: 09/15/1995
Release Year: 2003
Run Time: 1hr 33min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 4
MPAA Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

The film's OK, but the book's far, far better
(3 out of 5 stars)

"Unstrung Heroes is one of my alltime favorite books, and I was deeply disappointed how the filmmakers homogenized, pasteurized, de-ethnisized and generally watered it down. Granted, paring is a function of filmmaking - but the treacley script fails to capture the memoir's honesty, humor or dark irony. Unlike the book, the film wallows in sentimentality. Gone are 2 of the uncles - most missed is Uncle Leo, whom the young boy visits in the asylum that's been his home for more than 30 years. Instead of being genuinely mad and edgy, the two remaining uncles play out like Oscar and Felix on The Odd Couple. (They've been Disneyfied, like the rest of the major characters). And the boy's profoundly evil best friend - Ash - is reduced to a sort of Eddie Haskell. This film loses a lot - mostly an urban edge - by shifting locales from New York City to Pasadena (!!!) On top of that, the father (John Turturro) is shorn of all humor - the Sidney Lidz portrayed in the book was an extremely witty (though deeply flawed) man. Turturro does a fantastic job with a badly scripted, unplayable part. He transcends this disappointing adaptation and warrants 5 stars. And Disney has added all kinds of dopey capers (like the boy "saving" his uncles from eviction) to "move the action along." Really dumb and insulting to the viewer! My advice: Buy the book! It's richly rewarding, still in paperback and dirt-cheap."
Read The Book First, Then Judge | 01/14/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)

"I liked this movie a lot, until I read the following by Franz Lidz, the book's author (now I like it a lot less) (The book is great!):At the other end of this decade I wrote a childhood memoir ("Unstrung Heroes") that recounted my mother's six-year struggle with breast cancer. From my ninth birthday, in Year Two, almost every step she took was a step going down. "Her hospital stays were becoming longer and longer," I recalled. "I measured them by the nights that she was away. And I didn't like it now when she was home. She had become unpredictable. She wasn't dying like some movie heroine. She could be sullen and bad-tempered. I resented her." And yet when Disney adapted the book for the screen in 1995, my mother, Selma, was shown dying EXACTLY like a movie heroine. No anguished outbursts. No unkind thoughts. No endless days lying mute and tubed and suctioned in grim hospital rooms. My mother's celluloid counterpart (Andie McDowell) was a secular saint whose main cancer symptom was that she tripped over furniture. What I had described as a long, painful, ugly death was made quick, painless, almost pretty. On film, the more the cancer spread, the more luminous my mother became, as if she were pregnant, not ill. The way Disney spun cotton candy around my mother's suffering reminded me of Ali MacGraw's blissful description of her six-minute struggle with cancer in "Love Story" (1970). "It doesn't hurt, Ollie, really it doesn't," Ms. MacGraw, as Jenny, told her husband (Ryan O'Neal). "It's like falling off a cliff in slow motion. Only after a while you wish you hit the ground already." The way Disney killed off my mother -- after fixing pancakes, she praises her kids, plants a perversely passionate kiss on her husband's lips and, to soulful strains of "You Are My Sunshine," drifts off to die in a comfy armchair -- reminded me of Mad magazine's send-up of "Love Story." Instead of cancer, the diagnosis for Ms. MacGraw's character was Old Movie Disease. "In the old days, they used to die beautiful glamorous deaths!" a cartoon oncologist tells O'Neal. "Your wife is going to die such a beautiful death, it'll take your breath away before it takes her breath away." The Big C has always been a fruitful subgenre of Old Movie Diseases. Actresses from Bette Davis ("Dark Victory," brain tumor, 1939) to Debra Winger ("Terms of Endearment," lymphoma, 1983) to Diane Keaton ("Marvin's Room," leukemia, 1997) have received Oscar nominations for playing cancer victims. The latest Hollywood divas to brave cancer on the screen are Meryl Streep ("One True Thing") and Susan Sarandon ("Stepmom"). Both play well-off, middle-aged domestic goddesses, but only Ms. Streep is made to look ravaged by the disease. Her skin pale gray, her eyes rimmed red like a Kabuki's, she becomes so gaunt and frail that in the film's most affecting scene, she has to be lifted out of the bathtub by her daughter. Reduced to a miserable shell, she weeps, rages, endures Bette Midler songs and yet -- inevitably -- maintains her nobility. "Terminal illnesses can inspire voyeurism," Jackson Peyton, a public health consultant in Washington, said in a telephone interview. "Unable to find meaning in their own lives, some people seek it through the drama of the fatal sicknesses of others. But the hard reality of dying is brutally disappointing. For the most part, the deaths of cancer victims don't play out like characters in 19th-century novels or 20th-century films. The truth is that most suffer terribly, and many unload their bitterness on their loved ones." Old Movie Disease-driven films support their romantic agendas by evading and overlooking hard realities. The chaos and horror of cancer are papered over with sentiment and sanctimony, then packaged as a higher state of being. Hollywood cancer mutates ordinary people into angelic beings who straighten out the lives of all the mixed-up souls around them. In "Marvin's Room," the selfless Ms. Keaton draws on an inexhaustible fund of goodness to teach her selfish sister (Ms. Streep) to be more humane. In "One True Thing," the upright Ms. Streep is sacrificed so that her icily ambitious daughter (Renee Zellweger) can learn "life lessons" and turn compassionate caregiver. In "Stepmom," cancer works curative wonders on Ms. Sarandon's prickly perfect homemaker. She remains hostile toward her ex-husband's trophy wife-to-be (Julia Roberts) until, succumbing to the dynamics of the honeyed plot and repeated dosings of her own cancer theme song ("Ain't No Mountain High Enough"), she wearily slouches toward canonization. The more advanced the cancer, the more potent its redemptive powers. Terminal cancer trumps a relatively benign strain in "The Doctor," a 1991 tearjerker in which William Hurt sinks from lordly physician to lowly patient. Stricken with a treatable form of throat cancer, the chilly, insensitive heart surgeon befriends a fellow patient (Elizabeth Perkins) with an inoperable brain tumor. This doomed (and, of course, radiant) young woman guides him on one of those journeys of self-discovery that can begin and end only in Hollywood. Along the way, he learns to appreciate sunsets, desert dancing and rooftop pigeons. Watching this once heartless cardiologist transform into a benevolent St. Francis, replete with birds, I was reminded of another exchange in Mad's spoof. The oncologist tells a shaken Ryan O'Neal: "I'm afraid it's out of our hands." "You mean medical science is powerless?" O'Neal asks. "What medical science!? I'm talking about CINEMA science! Think back! What have we got so far? A corny soap-opera plot! Unbelievable dialogue! A schmaltzy piano music background! Can't you see? If the producer doesn't have a tragic, sobbing ending to make all this garbage seem meaningful, he's got absolutely nothing!" Someday somebody may find a cure for cancer, but the terminal sappiness of cancer movies is probably beyond remedy."
What A Missed Opportunity! | Albany, N.Y. | 07/12/1999
(3 out of 5 stars)

"This sappy, syrupy reworking of a splendid memoir is only affecting because it manipilates audiences by focus group-tested Hollywood formula. Sadly, the filmmakers were too callow to take even minimal risks and follow the book, which is exciting and volatile and genuinely affecting. The memoir survives on its honesty -- the film is hollow from its first false frame to its last. Only John Turturro's brilliant performance redeems this cheap, commercial project. But then, what else would you expect from Disney?"
A small, calculatingly warm and fuzzy movie
(3 out of 5 stars)

"It's interesting to watch the jagged leaps and bounds by which this hilarious, unsentimental Lower East Side memoir became a sentimental tearjerker about a beautiful mother dying of cancer in L.A. That Hollywood gets Jewishness wrong again and again should come as a surprise to no one (Remember Melanie Griffith in "A Stranger Among Us"?) But the story of "Unstrung Heroes" is a rather spectacular example of Disney not getting anything about New York at all. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about this sanitized ode to motherhood is that it is practically impossible to watch without crying. Billed as a Jewish "Terms of Endearment", it's really just another Light-Hearted Weepie that plucks at the heartstrings pretty darn hard."