Actress Mary Steenburgen finds herself up "Cross Creek" and too pooped to paddle. Seems as though she's been permanently decaffeinated as she sleepwalks through her role as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of "The Yearling," the Pulitzer Prize-winning classic about a boy and his deer.
Rawlings, described as a scrappy New York newspaperwoman, gave up the Big Apple for Southern crackers back in 1928. She bought herself an orange grove in central Florida and ditched her rich friends and her husband to find herself creatively. Steenburgen apparently thinks that being real passive is acting spirited. And she finds herself creatively by typing faster.
Compounding the damage is Steenburgen's behind-the-scenes narration from Rawlings' autobiographical book "Cross Creek." She rambles on about "the cosmic secrecy of seed" and being close to the earth and whatnot. They're beautiful passages in the silence of the mind but sound foolish as voice-overs on screen.
The script, set mostly in the cypress glades, includes the incessant dropping of Max Perkins' name. Perkins, for those who don't keep up with the Who's Who of famous editors, was one. Suddenly he drops by the swamp to discover Marjorie's latest short story, a breakthrough about a poor but proud backwoods couple. Perkins is played with pompous constipation by Steenburgen's real-life spouse, Malcolm McDowell.
The film is sluggish with two exceptions: Rip Torn as the romantic, rollicking Marsh Turner, one of the resilient residents of Cross Creek, the embodiment of the nature of that rugged and mysterious land; and Peter Coyote as Norton Baskin, smooth as Southern Comfort and just pouring on the charm. Baskin is the hotelier who persuades Rawlings to marry him after as tempestuous a courtship as Steenburgen can muster.
Rawlings, a city-bred Northerner, came to love the land as much as the people. Her romance with nature, her beliefs, her spirit, however, are easier to find in the movie version of "The Yearling" than in her own "Cross Creek." Perhaps writers aren't meant to be watched, but read.