Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Whole Wide World (1996): the forgotten Conan/Howard film

The Whole Wide World is not a Conan movie, but it is the Robert E. Howard movie. The marketing may have suggested to many that this was just another "chick flick", but it is much more than that. This romantic drama is chiefly based on the book One Who Walked Alone, the memoir of Howard by Novalyne Price Ellis, who was friends with and briefly dated Howard in the mid-1930s. Screenwriter Michael Scott Myers and director Dan Ireland worked closely with Mrs. Ellis to tell her side of their story.

We see the relationship distinctly from Novalyne's point of view, however it's still a great look into the thoughts and writing style of Howard. It's not completely accurate, and it is a dramatization. Even so, it's a pleasure to see these real-life characters brought to the screen.

Beyond the fun of watching a pulp legend portrayed on film -- shouting out the dialogue while typing a story, or passionately describing the history rooted in West Texas -- we also have the emotional connection to these characters and we feel the joys and sorrows of their relationship. TWWW is a great true story about this doomed relationship, told in a very real, well done and convincing way.

Could Novalyne have saved Bob Howard? Perhaps if the social conventions of the time were different, or if their obligations to others hadn't kept them apart. It's a heartbreaking look into the inevitable demise of a relationship between two different people who shared one passion: writing.

Vincent D'Onofrio shines in this film. He rarely disappoints in his acting roles and in TWWW he is so convincing as Howard. I can only guess what he was like based on written accounts by those who knew him. Having watched this film several times, it's easy for me to imagine Bob Howard as D'Onofrio portrayed him.

Rene Zellweger is fine as Novalyne. Her upbringing in Texas probably contributed to her performance. Unfortunately for me, I always see her as "Rene Zellweger" instead of the character she is playing, but that's just me. Zellweger and D'Onofrio have an uneasy chemistry on screen that does fit with the characters.

Zellweger's performance in this was overshadowed by the other little film she was in that year, Jerry McGuire. When she won the Oscar in 2004 for her performance in Cold Mountain, she thanked D'Onofrio for "teaching [her] how to work."

If you haven't seen TWWW, you've been missing a real treat.

Howard describes Conan from 1:04 to 2:30. The look on Novalyne's face is priceless.

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