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Anywhere But Here

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It's almost a requirement that rising actresses, particularly those making the transition from child-star parts to grown-up roles, have to make at least one coming-of-age movie, most of them as predictable as action films that open with a grizzled veteran cop announcing his retirement. Natasha Lyonne found a pretty good one with last year's Slums Of Beverly Hills; Natalie Portman doesn't fare quite so well with the strangely similar Anywhere But Here, an earnest and well-made but lifeless drama co-starring Susan Sarandon. Sarandon plays Portman's mother, a colorfully unstable middle-aged woman who leaves Wisconsin for the promise of L.A. Once there, Portman plots her escape, watching helplessly as Sarandon struggles to make ends meet while attempting to maintain a delusional optimism that glory days remain just around the corner. Both Portman and Sarandon do fine work, but it's pretty clear where Anywhere But Here will head right from the start—a fact not helped by Wayne Wang's direction, which, after a promising start, becomes surprisingly conventional. Still, the presence of Sarandon and Portman makes the ride more worthwhile than it would have been otherwise, particularly Sarandon's fully realized portrayal of her complicated character, a contradictory mixture of bottomless neediness, self-reliance, maternal love, and selfishness. It's a memorably effective performance in a film that doesn't quite live up to it.