Film > SelectionsSweet Land
What we have here is an otherwise respectable period drama that keeps descending to an after-school-special level of bluntness. Hating people for their nationality is really bad, see, which the unnecessarily earnest Sweet Land reminds us by having its cast of 1920s Midwesterners castigate a German socialist immigrant (Elizabeth Reaser) with sputtered variations on the phrase, “She’s different from us!” Most of the time, something far subtler would suffice — a pained expression, even. Reaser comes out best, in part because she’s a terrific face actress and also because her role as a non-English-speaking mail-order bride indemnifies her against the movie’s clunkier dialogue. Her character, Inge Ottenberg, travels to Minnesota to marry a Norwegian farmer, only to come smack-dab against a set of nasty prejudices. Though there was anti-German sentiment in the Midwest of yore, the severity of the scenario is a tad suspect. The movie’s biggest claims to authenticity are its terrific art direction and costuming, which soundly reinforce the ’20s passages and a few scenes set four decades later, with Lois Smith (Minority Report) playing the now-aged Inge. (Check out the note-perfect styling of Smith’s black funeral dress, and of her substitute-teacher eyeglasses.) The better-known actors give the worst performances: Ned Beatty does a lot of harrumphing as a greedy banker, and Alan Cumming (one of the film’s producers) almost pulls down the entire house of cards with his appearances as a Minnesotan farmer who inexplicably cavorts about the screen with the unbridled animation of Pee-wee Herman. He seems to have dropped in from another film altogether, and you wish he would drop right back out.