Starring Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (2005) is based on a true story set in the 1950s. Evelyn Ryan is a mother who supports her large family of twelve by entering jingle contests using twenty-five words or less. While her husband fights alcoholism, Ryan uses her flare for the written word to keep a roof over her head by winning a grand scale of prizes. Everything from a shopping spree at a local grocery store, a weekend for two in New York City, household appliances, and some cash helps her manage a tumultuous marriage.
If you read the memoir of the same name, written by daughter Terry Ryan, you may be as amazed as I was at how well the account of the Ryan family was captured in the film, running time providing. Jane Anderson (writer of How to Make An American Quilt (1995)) directs this sweet movie that slipped under the mainstream radar. Though most film critics chalked up the movie to be a perfect feature for Hallmark, I found that this movie doesn't contain weak performances or script.
The cast of the Ryan children are united in their performances, especially Jordan Todosey and Ellary Porterfield who portrays Terry Ryan at different ages. Woody Harrelson, as Leo "Kelly" Ryan, though uneven at times still commands the emotionality behind his characters' alcoholism. And, Julianne Moore's portrayal of Evelyn simply shines. The Academy Award nominated actress who is long overdue for an actual win gives another performance I found to be disappointingly overlooked. Though her marriage is often at a rocky point, Moore gives an equal balance of endearing optimism and inner strength. Evelyn is not a woman who pussy foots with doom and gloom. And, without skills that would get her into the workforce if she wasn't taking care of her large family, Evelyn proves that as a mother she does what she can in the best ways she knows how.
The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio isn't a Hollywood-handled tale, but a true-to-life account of families doing as much as they can to stick together. During the economic crisis from 2008 to 2012, this is a story all families can enjoy and relate to. At its heart, it shows that through the heartaches, light can be found at the end of a dark tunnel.