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'The Whole Wide World'

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 24, 1997

In the early 1930s, a spirited, independent young schoolteacher called Novalyne Price (Renee Zellweger) meets Robert E. Howard (Vincent D'Onofrio), a pulp novelist who still lives at home, and who has his own brand of personality pyrotechnics. They don't seem matched for each other; but Novalyne is drawn to Bob's passion for writing.

The creator of such popular series as "Conan the Barbarian" reads his overwrought melodramas with such fire, she's completely transported. Over the years, they develop a stormy, on-again-off-again relationship.

Bob's overbearing personality is difficult to handle, and he's practically housebound because of his writing schedule and his undying devotion to his mother. He's provoked by Novalyne's academic position in life; he believes teachers destroy individual creative impulses in children.

Their unusual relationship is also threatened by Truett Vinson (Chris Shearer), a suitor who is prepared to put in the wooing time that Bob is not. Bob and Novalyne's story (based on fact) is a small affair in the great scheme of things, but director Dan Ireland and screenwriter Michael Scott Myers (who adapted Price's real-life memoir, "One Who Walked Alone") imbue this romance with a special, delicate intensity.

D'Onofrio puts an unforgettably rigorous stamp on the character; you completely understand his unconventional appeal. But as Novalyne, Zellweger (best known as Tom Cruise's co-star in "Jerry Maguire") is an utter screen pleasure, the very best thing about this movie. Her dynamic, yet restrained, performance is a story unto itself.

Contains sexual situations.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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