The Whole Wide World
Upset by the common perception of writer Robert E. Howard ("Conan the Barbarian") as, alternately, a screwball, a psycho and/or a loony hermit, in 1988 schoolteacher Novalyne Price Ellis published a memoir describing her bittersweet romance with the writer some 50 years earlier. Adapted for the screen, The Whole Wide World (1996) stars a just-post-Jerry Maguire Renee Zellweger as Novalyne and Vincent D'Onofrio as Bob; and while the story presents Howard in a favorable light, he still comes off as more than a little crazy. Not that there's anything wrong with that, especially when played by the always watchable D'Onofrio. Introduced to Howard by an ex-boyfriend in 1933, Novalyne finds herself immediately taken by the broad-faced gent in perennial white shirts and suspenders, a man generally considered to be a major weirdo by those in their North Texas town. An aspiring writer herself, Novalyne enters into friendship with Howard as a way to pick the brain of a professional; what follows is an odd and tortured romance between the emotionally constricted Howard who pours his passions into his pulp writing while caring for his domineering mother (a wonderfully unpleasant Ann Wedgeworth) and the wholesome, increasingly frustrated Novalyne. The film offers no major insights into either the real Howard nor the film's version of him, but D'Onofrio's performance is reason enough to see the picture; loud, desperate, yearning, and powerful, his portrayal of the man who gave life to Conan (and who received praise from no less than H.P. Lovecraft as "the greatest pulp fiction writer in the whole wide world") is a virtuoso performance. Columbia TriStar's DVD release of The Whole Wide World offers a disappointing anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) that's colorful and bright but also worn there's not a scene on this disc that isn't marred by scratches and specks. The Dolby 2.0 Surround audio is fine but unexceptional, with the dialogue sometimes competing with Hans Zimmer's overloud score (French subtitles and English closed-captions are provided). A commentary track featuring D'Onofrio, director Dan Ireland, and other crew principals, testifies that all involved had high hopes for the production beyond the lackluster reception the film received on its release. There's also a less-than-compelling new chat between Ireland and Zellweger that offers little beyond the actress's squinty-eyed platitudes. Also on board are trailers for The Remains of the Day, The Age of Innocence, and Sense and Sensibility. Keep-case.