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Digging to China

A movie directed by Timothy Hutton

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Digging to China – heartbreaking

  • Dec 12, 2000
Pros: great performances and a good story

Cons: none

Kevin Bacon is a strong actor. Other than Tremors (hey, he was young and it wasn’t all THAT bad), I can think of few movies that he doesn’t deliver a consistent performance. Not what you would call an outstanding actor under normal circumstances, but a relatively decent one that always gives good follow through for his roles. However, since his performance in Murder in the First, I have taken a different look at his talent.

In Murder, he played a crippled (through cruelty at the hands of his captors) convict with diminished mental capacity. In Digging to China, Bacon again delves into the limited mind of a challenged person, and does it with panache. Several times I forgot it was Bacon in the role, except for his distinctive nose, as he adopts the movements and attitude of a person with a less than stable outlook on life. The only thing I have to say against his performance, well not actually HIS performance, but rather the role portrayed, is though they strive to show him as seriously challenged, they also give him characteristics that offset this. In several scenes it seemed his character was too advanced for the type of role it was supposed to be setting forth, perhaps just my own personal take on that though.

The story centers around a young girl (Even Rachael Wood) stuck in rural Pennsylvania in a backwoods roadside motel “Mom won this in the divorce” with an alcoholic mother (Cathy Moriarty) and a slutty older sister (Mary Stuart Masterson). Wood is a dreamer of dreams, always looking for escape from what she feels is a restrictive life. When the car carrying Bacon, on his way to a group home, and his mother (Marian Seldes), breaks down as they are passing through, Bacon and mom stop over until repairs can be completed.

Bacon, also a dreamer of dreams, and Wood strike up a perfect friendship that few can or will understand. Of course, given the circumstances and the times, you know things are not going to go well for the two friends because evil minds being what they are will always assume the worst and question later. I particularly loved the scene where Wood tells Bacon that she will grant him three wishes and one of the wishes was that he would be as smart as everyone else. She takes him to her school that day (he was her show & tell for the day) and after the initial ridicule by fellow students, he captivates them with his knowledge of places they have never been. For just a minute in time, he is indeed as smart as everyone else, if not smarter.

The adults surrounding these two characters are very limited in their understanding of friendships. Perhaps this comes from defeat in their own lives – broken marriages, taking care of handicapped children, being the town tramp. They relate their own failures onto these two innocents, destroying what would otherwise be a perfect relationship, dreamers dreaming dreams.

As far as acting ability, I found Evan Wood to be remarkable in this role. She plays a part well beyond her years, although she plays the part of a young girl. For some reason, she seems to come across, when she needs to, as much older and much more insightful than her tender years should allow. Bacon, as I said, was outstanding, often making me forget who he was, similar to DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape.

Cathy Moriarty was a wonderful drunk, laying about on the couch and refusing to admit her own limitations as a person. However, of the two, I believe Masterson gave the best performance. At first making you hate her as the older, trampy sister and then standing by her side when circumstances change (something I won’t divulge).

Above all these, though, I think the most telling and interesting person was Marian Seldes as Bacon’s defeated mother. You just ached for her defeatist attitude as she realizes that nothing will ever get better and nothing will ever change – learn to live with it. Her sighs will tear you apart!

All in all a delightful production by writer Karen Janszen, directed by Timothy Hutton and produced by about 10 people.

“See ya later alligator”
“In a while, crocodile”


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review by . December 10, 2000
Pros: Great casting, unique storyline, originality     Cons: None     This past week I finally got the chance to sit through the movie Digging to China while being shown on Home Box Office Channel. The director of this film is Timothy Hutton, with Kevin Bacon in the role of Ricky.       The movie appears to take place in the 1970s with The Dating Game and Newlywed Game showing on the television in the living room. Magic Carpet Ride is …
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About this movie


A strong friendship forms in a small town between a creative 10 year-old girl with a difficult home life and an adult mentally retarded man. Timothy Hutton directs Kevin Bacon, Mary Stuart Masterson and Cathy Moriarty in this small, overlooked film.
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Director: Timothy Hutton
Release Date: 1998
MPAA Rating: PG
DVD Release Date: Wellspring (December 26, 2006)
Runtime: 1hr 43min
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