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‘This Is My Life’ (PG-13)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 06, 1992

THERE IS an audience for "This Is My Life." Some of them could be heard at a recent sneak preview of the movie.

"Oh, she's funny," said a middle-aged woman, referring to star Julie Kavner.

"That was really mean," said her friend, when Kavner's screen daughter sarcastically derided her mother for leaving home to be a stand-up comic.

They chuckled at the happy parts, they were teary at the sad parts. They were the ones you see interviewed on those TV commercials for movies. A narrator says something like, "People are going crazy for 'Fried Green Tomatoes'!" Then moviegoers, interviewed after the movie, talk in hyperboles for the camera:

"Oh yes, we loved it very much," an elderly couple will say.

"A definite 10!" pipes in an unemployed pipe fitter.

"I cried t'roo da whole t'ing," declares a white-haired woman in sunglasses and fur coat.

"This Is My Life" will please the easygoing crowds. In this sitcomish drama, frustrated comic Kavner has had it with selling beauty products at Macy's. Every night she and daughters Samantha Mathis and Gaby Hoffmann fantasize about Kavner's appearance on the Johnny Carson show. A small inheritance later, Kavner moves out of Queens and goes for the funny big time. She's been a good, single mother, she figures. It's payback time. Agent Carrie Fisher sets her up with agency head Dan Aykroyd and it isn't long before Mom's on the road, and on television.

Meanwhile, 16-year-old Mathis and 10-year-old Hoffman are shipped around from babysitter to babysitter. What was going to be a small separation becomes a continued existence. A wedge starts to be driven between mother and daughters.

Chances are, if you snip Erma Bombeck columns, "Life" is for you. This is all about the ironies of mothering, single-parenting and working. Says Kavner at one point: "If you give your kids a choice -- your mother in the next room on the verge of suicide versus your mother in ecstasy in Hawaii -- they'll choose suicide in the next room, believe me."

This also marks the directorial debut of female angstmeister Nora ("When Harry Met Sally . . .") Ephron, who also adapted the Meg Wolitzer book with sister Delia Ephron. It's an easy, conventional project for her, predictably paced, the outcome clearly traced. If it doesn't do well theatrically, it'll certainly be popular in the video stores. Gravel-voiced Kavner (the voice of Marge in TV's wonderful "The Simpsons") is perfect for this kind of movie: She wears polka dots and makes jokes about chickens. But when she claims Steve Martin told her "I love your work," that's quite a conceit. C'mon people, Martin's a real comedian.

Actually, the funniest scene in the movie is between daughter Mathis and her new teenage beau, as they court each other -- in teen embarrassment -- on a park bench. "My parents are endocrinologists," says the boy, for want of something to say. Later on, they try to make love with unsuccessful but amusing results. The awkwardness in these scenes feels more real than all the other self-consciously cutesy moments put together. But then again, without that cheesiness, this would be someone else's life.

Copyright The Washington Post

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