Today I went to WalMart and made my usual trip to the DVD cheap bin. And usually there aren't any movies of much account in the cheap bin, beyond a few Abbot and Costello and John Wayne movies, but this time I was pleasantly surprised. They had Army of Darkness, Mystery Men, and The Whole, Wide World. Most of you have probably heard of the former two, but I doubt many of you have heard of the last movie. That is a shame, as The Whole Wide World is a very fine film indeed.
The Whole, Wide World centres on the tumultuous relationship between school teacher Novalyne Price and pulp writer Robert E. Howard (the creator of Conan the Barbarian, King Kull, and Solomon Kane). And it is that relationship is what makes this movie so special. Instead of a syrupy, sweet, perfect, Hollywood romance, we get an imperfect, at times stormy relationship between two people who actually existed. We have Howard, the dreamer who is overly devoted to his mother and whose experience with women is, well, limited to say the least. And then we have Novalyne Price, an independent, intelligent, young woman, who is a bit on the quiet side. It is natural that two such strong personalities, each with their own frailties and contradictions, would be attracted to each other.
There is very little I can find to dislie about The Whole, Wide World. Its strength lies in the peformances of Vincent D'Onofrio as Robert E. Howard and Renee Zellweger as Novalyne Price (Renee even gets to speak with her native drawl for once!). The two actors certainly did their research, as they capture Howard and Price so completely that it is hard to pictue anyone else in the roles. It seems to me that screenwriter Michael Scott Myers did his research as well. As near as I can tell, it strays but little from the reality of Howard's life. I also have to meantion Dan Ireland's direction. At the same time he captures both the atmosphere of Depression era, rural Texas and Howard's overblown imagination perfectly.
Sadly, The Whole, Wide World was lost in the rush of movies released at the 1996 Christmas season. While it won a number of awards (and was even nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance), The Whole, Wide World only made $136,933 at the box office in the United States. This is a shame, as it is truly a good film. Indeed, I would recommend the movie to anyone who is a Robert E. Howard fan, loves the state of Texas, loves non-traditional romance movies, or just plain loves well done movies, period.