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[whitespace] 'My Life So Far' So Far, So Good: A boy comes to terms with his odd family in 'My Life So Far.'

Moss of Innocence

'My Life So Far' looks back in fondness on a boy's eccentric family in Scotland

By Heather Zimmerman

THIS LIGHTHEARTED coming-of-age tale captures both the whimsy of childhood and the painful complexities of growing into adulthood. My Life So Far, based on Sir Denis Forman's memoir, Son of Adam, is set in rural Scotland in the 1920s and chronicles the adventures of 10-year-old Fraser Pettigrew (Robert Norman), who enjoys a generally blissful youth running amok with his many siblings in a fairy-tale castle of a manor home. Fraser's family is large, eccentric and philosophically divided: from the socially conservative leanings of formidable Gamma (Rosemary Harris) to Uncle Morris (Malcolm McDowell), who very vocally disapproves of Fraser's father's business ventures, to the mild-mannered Moira (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), Fraser's mother, who brings some calm to the family--but not enough to counteract the wildness of Fraser's father, Edward (Colin Firth), who for all his stern religious preachings doesn't seem much of an adult himself. An inventor, Edward chiefly occupies himself with improvements to his beloved sphagnum moss factory--somewhat understandably the target of Morris' derision--that turns out everything from soap to cigars, all made of moss. Dad's lack of maturity becomes inescapably obvious, even to Fraser, with his possessive attraction to Morris' young French fiancée, Heloise (Irene Jacob), and in some ways, the film becomes as much a tale of Edward's growing up as of Fraser's.

Norman has the natural presence essential to keep Fraser's innocuous exploits from being the smirkingly bratty stunts of a child actor expecting to garner laughs. His mishaps, mistakes and innocent curiosity are at once humorous and poignant. The boyish-looking Firth serves as a good foil for Norman; Edward's childishness eventually manifests itself as petulant bitterness and jealousy, emanating something close to a menace that demonstrates the important distinction between being young at heart and simply being immature. However, though Edward's attraction to Heloise considerably threatens familial bliss, the film generally maintains a playful focus on Fraser, especially as he struggles for a better understanding of adults.

In its knowing, loving portrayals of children's mischievous--but typical--antics, and all the eccentricities of a family, My Life So Far calls to mind another nostalgic coming-of-age tale, A Christmas Story, also based on a childhood memoir. Like the latter film, My Life So Far warmly celebrates how great it was to be a kid (indeed, with the film's combination of mist, golden sunlight and rolling green hills, director Hugh Hudson paints an idyllic picture), but in remembering all the difficulties of growing up, neither film is entirely wistful that childhood had to be left behind, either.

My Life So Far (PG-13; 93 min.), directed by Hugh Hudson, written by Simon Donald, based on a book by Sir Denis Forman, photographed by Bernard Lutic and starring Colin Firth, Malcolm McDowell, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Robert Norman, opens Thursday at the Nickelodeon in Santa Cruz.

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From the September 22-29, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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