Susan Sarandon is usually at her best playing in the normal range of human emotion. She already looks larger than life; it’s a mistake for her to make even more florid what was florid to begin with, which is precisely what she does in Anywhere But Here, Wayne Wang’s tepid movie based on Mona Simpson’s celebrated 1986 novel. Sarandon’s Adele August, with her unwilling daughter Ann (Natalie Portman) in tow, ditches her working-class family in Bay City, Wisconsin, for the promised land of Beverly Hills and keeps up a running patter of hyperbolic jabber all the way. Adele is supposed to be one of those maddening, impossibly eccentric mamas who make their children’s lives both miserable and worth living.
Ann, who is as levelheaded as her mother is flighty, wants to flee, and yet we’re supposed to see that her days are richer for having been tethered to this human wind machine. In order for this material to work we have to feel a familial connection between these two, but Adele and Ann don’t really seem like mother and daughter; their conflicts are more a matter of theatrical convenience than something born in the blood. In fairness to Natalie Portman, Sarandon’s excessiveness would be difficult for any actress to match up with, but, in any event, she hasn’t found the way to do it. She spends most of the movie looking clenched and glum. Maybe it was her way of setting herself apart from her co-star’s antics – of being anywhere but there.