It’s bright, it’s clever, and it’s going to be a major hit: a smashing success with the press and the public.
Movie producer Robinson’s semi-autobiographical debut about a Hollywood movie producer whose sister Ohio gets leukemia is already garnering press as the women’s tearjerker of 2004. And understandably so. Olivia, 34, is struggling unsuccessfully to produce a film adaptation of Don Quixote and contemplating the happier aspects of suicide when she receives word that her younger, newly married sister Maddie has been diagnosed with leukemia. Through Olivia’s letters—to her parents; best friend Tina and her ex- but still-loved boyfriend Michael; even to big-name Hollywood celebrities she wants involved in her film—we follow the ups and downs of Maddie’s illness as well as the ups and downs of Olivia’s career and love-life. The very studio that fired Olivia only a short time earlier agrees to produce Quixote, and Olivia’s movie ambitions take off. From Hollywood and from locations in Europe, she travels back and forth to Shawnee Falls to be with her family, and the contrasts and connections between the two worlds lie at the novel’s heart. In Ohio, Olivia witnesses her reticent mother and alcoholic father’s long marriage in a new light. Maddie herself is down-to-earth and spunky throughout her treatments, side-effects, false hope of remissions, and ultimate downward spiral. Her religious husband is a rock. Michael, a painter who is handsome and wonderful but wants her to live with him in New Mexico, visits and beckons Olivia back, but her ambition resists. Meanwhile, Hollywood politics turn ugly, but despite a slight bout of craziness when she steals the car of her nemesis and drives it into the ocean, Olivia perseveres. She hires a new, handsome director. Don Quixote, starring Robin Williams (bound to make a cameo in the film adaptation) opens to good reviews if not great numbers. Maddie dies gracefully, leaving behind a legacy of love.
“You’ll laugh, you’ll cry”: Robinson is enormously skilled at pushing the emotional buttons, but an aftertaste of manipulation lingers. There’s also something self-serving about the writing, something frankly very Hollywood about it. But will it sell? Is there balm in Gilead?