The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (2005)



Critic Consensus: 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.

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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 … More

Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements, some disturbing images and language)
Genre: Drama
Directed By:
Written By: Jane Anderson
In Theaters:
On DVD: Mar 14, 2006
Box Office: $0.4M
Dreamworks Distribution LLC - Official Site


as Evelyn Ryan

as Kelly Ryan

as Dortha Schaefer

as Tuff Ryan (age 13-18...

as Bruce Ryan (age 16)

as Ray the Milkman

as Lea Anne Ryan (age 1...

as Dick Ryan (age 16)

as Bub Ryan (age 15)

as Rog Ryan (age 13)

as Bruce Ryan (age 11)

as Tuff Ryan (age 9)

as Mike Ryan (age 6)

as Barb Ryan (age 4)

as Betsy Ryan (age 2)

as Baby Dave

as Baby Dave

as Rog Ryan (age 17)

as Mike Ryan (age 10)

as Barb Ryan (age 8)

as Betsy Ryan (age 6)

as Dave Ryan (age 4)

as Mike Ryan (age 13)

as Barb Ryan (age 11)

as Betsy Ryan (age 9)

as Dave Ryan (age 7)

as Herself (as an Adult...

as Herself (as an Adult...

as Father McCague

as Cutter Murphy

as Mrs. Bidlack

as Emma Hartzler

as Gladys Tierney

as Betty Yearling

as Betty White

as Checkout Lady Marge

as Checkout Lady Paulin...

as Vernon the Mailman

as Deliveryman

as Deliveryman

as Deliveryman

as Detective Feeney

as Band Show Host

as Rock 'n Roll Singer

as Girl Group Member

as Girl Group Member

as Girl Group Member

as Seabrook Executive

as Harvey the Mechanic

as Joe the Mechanic

as Bike Contest Man No....

as Bike Contest Man No....

as Neighbor Man

as Officer Dobbs

as Officer Finney
Show More Cast

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Critic Reviews for The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio

All Critics (89) | Top Critics (35)

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

Full Review… | November 10, 2005
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Top Critic

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

Full Review… | October 20, 2005
Arizona Republic
Top Critic

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

Full Review… | October 14, 2005
Toronto Star
Top Critic

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

Full Review… | October 14, 2005
Seattle Times
Top 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

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.

Full Review… | October 14, 2005
Globe and Mail
Top Critic

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.

Spencer S.

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.

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?
Good acting and plot.
Can be funny at times.
Could be slow at times.

erika bruhns

Super Reviewer

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