How to Make an American Quilt (1995)

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For a lot of us, Winona Ryder was the 90s version of the It Girl. Here she’s Finn Dodd, a Berkeley student who can’t decide what to do for her Master’s thesis and on the verge of marriage to Sam (Dermot Mulroney) so she ups sticks and moves in with her grandmother (Ellen Burstyn) and great aunt (Anne Bancroft) for the summer in Grass Valley, northern California. They run a quilting bee – or rather their former maid Anna (Maya Angelou) does – and she uses their experience for her latest thesis idea. The novel by Whitney Otto is an elegant exploration of the threads and patterns that make up a woman’s life and how the quilting experience gathers together the pain and joy of family, adolescence, marriage, babies, infidelity and ageing and constructs a narrative that weaves the past and the present into stitches in time. Jane Anderson does a fine job of bringing all these elements together into an expressive whole, giving life to an ensemble of some of the best actresses of their time in a cast that also includes Jean Simmons, Lois Smith, Alfre Woodard, Kate Capshaw and Kate Nelligan. Finn’s choices are paralleled with all the choices that this group of disparate characters have made over their own lifetimes. “To know my story … is to understand my superimposition on the world, to see that I am in the world as shadow, as film laid upon the more vibrant picture.” Jocelyn Moorhouse does a fine job visualising the fusing of these distinct rhymes and it’s shot in a beautiful light by Janusz Kaminski. Now isn’t it time Ryder made a proper comeback?