How to Make an American Quilt is a pleasing, sisters-through-the-generations tableau that, not surprisingly, weaves together stories like panels on the titular fabric. Perhaps too obvious in its metaphors and methods, the film executes them well enough to make it a fond celebration of womanhood. Although the variety of grand dames who take their place around the quilt (Maya Angelou, Ellen Burstyn, Anne Bancroft, Alfre Woodard) would seem to serve as mother figures to Winona Ryder's Finn Dodd, the experiences they recount assume more of a sisterly quality, getting at the universality of the female condition. That said, it's not an exercise in man hating either; there may be more male scoundrels, but both sexes share the blame in the tragic yet simplistic war stories related by the women. The overall outlook is sentimentally optimistic, and the heartland settings look gorgeous through the lens of Steven Spielberg's personal cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, making for an agreeable if not overly memorable viewing experience. Australian director Jocelyn Moorhouse followed up this first Hollywood movie with another study of mistreated women in America's farm country, A Thousand Acres (1997), but missed the mark while trying to push a more radical agenda.
by Derek Armstrong review