The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio (2005)

Director: Jane Anderson

Julianne Moore turns in another lovably strong portrayal as Evelyn Ryan, a creative '50s Ohio housewife who uses her wits and luck with “contesting” to help feed her family of twelve as her well-intentioned but alcoholic husband earns little at his factory job.

Based on the memoir by Ryan’s daughter Terry, writer/director Jane Anderson films her tale with the pastel sherbet like shades of the '50s but despite the bright art direction and costuming, viewers quickly learn that like Ryan, the exterior is window dressing and times are much tougher than they seem.

Dealing with the hypocrisies of a Catholic priest who scolds the wife for her husband’s drinking and behavior, a bank that requires only the man’s signature on a mortgage when the woman’s winnings keep the family afloat, and having to put all needs above her own intellect serving as a loyal housewife when her mind is the sharpest in the home—the film at times makes a breezy martyr of its lead character and angers audiences greatly.

There’s also something false that rings with Ryan’s earnest narration when she addresses failed American dreams such as her husband’s wish to be a crooner that was cut short in a tragic car accident and she states that she was at least able to keep her voice—but it’s either ignorance or denial because one is acutely aware that she is imprisoned by her position.

And while she raises ten children, there’s something unbearably sad about watching a woman wait until her daughter turns sixteen and gets her license before she can be taken across the state line. Still the performances and the concept are memorable and it’s one of the most unusual stories about '50s family life you’ll ever see as truth is most definitely stranger than fiction.