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The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (2005)

tomatometer

57

Average Rating: 6/10
Reviews Counted: 82
Fresh: 47 | Rotten: 35

Noteworthy for Julianne Moore's performance, Prize Winner is nonetheless a largely indistinct and tentative film that fails to convey the true power of its bittersweet tale.

53

Average Rating: 6/10
Critic Reviews: 32
Fresh: 17 | Rotten: 15

Noteworthy for Julianne Moore's performance, Prize Winner is nonetheless a largely indistinct and tentative film that fails to convey the true power of its bittersweet tale.

audience

74

liked it
Average Rating: 3.3/5
User Ratings: 18,349

My Rating

Movie Info

The true story of one woman's effort to keep her family afloat under difficult circumstances comes to the screen in this bittersweet comedy drama. Evelyn Ryan (Julianne Moore) was a woman of intelligence, talent, and pluck living in the small town of Defiance, OH, in the 1950s. Evelyn was married to Kelly Ryan (Woody Harrelson), a man who gave her ten children but not much else; Kelly had a severe drinking problem, struggled to hold on to a job, and tended to spend his money as soon as he earned

PG-13,

Drama

Jane Anderson

Mar 14, 2006

$0.4M

Dreamworks Distribution LLC - Official Site External Icon

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All Critics (89) | Top Critics (35) | Fresh (47) | Rotten (35) | DVD (9)

It makes for a nice Mother's Day card. But not enough for a complete movie.

November 10, 2005 Full Review Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Rarely do you have a movie in which both lead actors give Oscar-worthy performances, but Defiance, Ohio is one.

October 20, 2005 Full Review Source: Arizona Republic
Arizona Republic
Top Critic IconTop Critic

For once, a true story gets no romanticizing or needless embellishment to become a captivating movie.

October 14, 2005 Full Review Source: Toronto Star
Toronto Star
Top Critic IconTop Critic

An uneven but loving tribute to a remarkable woman -- who would, undoubtedly, have wished to rewrite it herself.

October 14, 2005 Full Review Source: Seattle Times | Comment (1)
Seattle Times
Top Critic IconTop Critic

What distinguishes Anderson's work is her obvious empathy with all of her characters, including Kelly Ryan, whom she does not demonize.

October 14, 2005
Philadelphia Inquirer
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Anderson can't do much with the inherent limitations of the hagiopic, which demands a repetitive litany of sacrifice and sanctity, with each hill and every valley designed to further enhance the landscape of inspiration.

October 14, 2005 Full Review Source: Globe and Mail
Globe and Mail
Top Critic IconTop Critic

Defiance, Where? Female Compliance Behind and Before The Camera

February 10, 2007 Full Review Source: WBAI Web Radio
WBAI Web Radio

The script just dulls out.

January 29, 2007 Full Review Source: Ozus' World Movie Reviews
Ozus' World Movie Reviews

This Prize Winner is a winner for its smart portrayal of a resourceful woman who loved her family, loved words, and loved life.

September 27, 2006
Christianity Today

Far worse films with far lesser credentials have been given much fairer shots.

June 21, 2006 Full Review Source: Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)
Mountain Xpress (Asheville, NC)

[Offers] an almost subversively idealistic subtext to a now-familiar ritual exposé of the American dream.

April 12, 2006 Full Review Source: Decent Films Guide
Decent Films Guide

Moore delivers one of the best performances of 2005.

March 13, 2006 Full Review Source: Filmcritic.com
Filmcritic.com

... in another director's hands ... might have devolved into a truly terrifying Lifetime-style screed against the oppressiveness of the masculine ego

January 2, 2006 Full Review Source: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

...assembles an uneven but fairly inspirational package, manipulative in spots but with its heart in the right place.

November 9, 2005 Full Review
Denton Record Chronicle (TX)

In the end, Prizewinner is surprisingly uplifting and proves to be more of a timeless, genderless feel-good story than a period chick flick.

November 4, 2005 Full Review Source: Richmond.com

Just a run-of-the-mill homage to motherhood lifted from the ordinary only by Moore's natural radiance, and in the end that's not quite enough.

November 1, 2005 Full Review Source: One Guy's Opinion
One Guy's Opinion

[W]hip[s] hardship into a nutrition-free froth of nostalgia and facile charm: it's The Wonder Years as produced by Good Housekeeping magazine.

October 30, 2005 Full Review Source: Flick Filosopher
Flick Filosopher

But even as Prize Winner goes through these odd motions to set Evelyn's taxing context and her admirable survival, its most extraordinary moment turns surreal.

October 14, 2005 Full Review Source: PopMatters
PopMatters

Not satire, but not serious, the movie chirps along with corny jingles and patronizingly 'feminist' winks at Evelyn's sugarcoated nightmare.

October 14, 2005 Full Review Source: San Diego Union-Tribune
San Diego Union-Tribune

It's a well-done autobiography, full of small but telling moments and details that add dark edges to the frame.

October 14, 2005
Philadelphia Daily News

This is an engaging film about a real family and about optimism in the midst of hardship, but it's also a fascinating historical document.

October 14, 2005 Full Review Source: Jam! Movies
Jam! Movies

Audience Reviews for The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio

A rather forgotten film at the box office, and in the annals of history, this adaptation from the book of the same name features some heart tugging moments but overall comes off as tripe. At the box office this film didn't make back all that much from its original budget and it's easy to figure out why when it comes to the story. This film looks at a mother who had to help her home of ten children with her own brilliant mind. The prize winner in the title is alluding to the fact that main character Evelyn Ryan (Moore) spent the bulk of her life winning contests put out by companies in the fifties in order to keep her family from collapsing into ruin thanks to her husband's alcoholic tendencies. The film is intriguing not only for the character's quick mind at thinking up jingles, limericks, and general rhymes for contests, but also for educating the current generation about the ad campaigns of companies in the fifties and the role of the housewife at the time of baby boomers. The reason this doesn't evolve into an Oscar worthy film or even a memorable one, is simply because the film lacks any true drama. Yes, her husband is a blight to the family by drinking away his paycheck and leaving his wife to support them on pure luck, but that doesn't always pay off plot wise. Harrelson is great in the role, but most of the time he comes off as jealous more than anything, and at his patient and intelligent wife at that, who has little control over her own life let alone her immense family. His petty betrayals only make him a victim along with the rest of them, and without any adversity or true villain to the story it becomes one of survival. Again, that would be fine, if there wasn't a climactic ending that the entire film hangs its hat on, and it's obvious what's going to happen, in as formulaic and clichéd an ending as ever. This film is interesting and does feature some great information, but does not correctly build to its conclusion, and doesn't resonate for a reason.
May 1, 2013
FrizzDrop

Super Reviewer

A housewife keeps her family from sinking into bankruptcy by winning ad-writing contests.
The main plot line of this film, a productive and almost optimistic response to fifties patriarchal oppression, becomes obvious early on. But Evelyn Ryan's bright-eyed responses to her husband's insecure harangues make it hard to sympathize with her. How long can we scream, "Leave the bastard" at the screen until we give up on her plight? But just when it gets to be oppressive, she says, "Your job is not to make me happy, but to stay away from me when I am." Could there be a more heart-breaking thing for a wife to say to her husband?
Julianne Moore's performance was, of course, awful, and she shares the blame with the script for making Evelyn a tiring character. Woody Harrelson doesn't rise to the level of being a malevolent force, but his character has nuances, moments of compassion mixed with his fits of outrage.
Overall, I thought there was some things to like about The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio - it's an interesting story that has flashes of brillance - but Moore's performance and some structural problems make it ultimately a disappointment.
October 14, 2011
hunterjt13
Jim Hunter

Super Reviewer

The prize Winner of defiance, Ohio Is about Dysfunctional family trying to make ends meet. The father is abusive and has a drink problem that laeve the family with out money. The mother enters contests to money to make end meet. Will the family be able to staying one place or will the have to move?
Pros
Good acting and plot.
Can be funny at times.
Cons
Could be slow at times.
i
July 1, 2011
erika250
erika bruhns

Super Reviewer

This is a very interesting, off-beat dramedy with 2 Academy Award worthy performances. Julianne Moore gives one of her best performances(she has a lot of good ones to choose from) as a mother who wins a ton of contests in the 1950's to help support her family of ten kids. She really lights the screen with her positive outlook and radiant smile. Woody Harrelson plays her alcoholic husband who has a hard time coping with life. He plays the character perfectly, as you hate the way he treats her, but you feel sorry for him. This movie reminded me of another little gem of a flick called "Waitress." They're very different, but the tone and the way the story is told is pretty similar. Geared more towards women, but there's enough here for guys to like as well. Emily stayed awake the whole time and really enjoyed it. If she stays awake through an entire movie in the evening, then it's a winner! :-p
June 30, 2011
Everett Johnson

Super Reviewer

    1. Evelyn Ryan: I don't need you to make me happy, Kelly. I just need you to leave me alone when I am.
    – Submitted by Ceara R (2 years ago)
    1. Evelyn Ryan: Everything is possible.
    – Submitted by Silvia L (3 years ago)
View all quotes (2)

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