Welcome to FrockTalk, the web’s only costume-based movie review site. The goal of Frocktalk is to shed light on the magnificent artistry of costume design in motion pictures. Reviews on this site are written by working costume designers in the entertainment industry – people who know, better than anyone, what it takes to make it all happen. The focus of FrockTalk is not to comment on the big flashy costume dramas, but to call attention to the seemingly ordinary costume design work in film that silently and persuasively moves the audience toward understanding the characters. Costume design for motion pictures is an art form that deserves more recognition than it usually gets. Fancy, pretty costumes do not always equal effective, appropriate costumes. The art of the costume is in letting the audience know who the character is, before the actor even has a chance to open his mouth. Read on, and enjoy. ** CAUTION: ALL REVIEWS CONTAIN SPOILERS! **

When Love Is Not Enough

Winona Ryder and Barry Pepper in CBS/Hallmark Hall of Fame's When Love Is Not Enough

Air Date: 4-25-10, 9PM, CBS

Runtime: 2 hours, with commercials

Period: 1914-1951

Costume Designer: Trysha Bakker

If you have ever known anyone who has (or have, yourself) suffered with alcoholism, you have probably heard of Alcoholics Anonymous. The organization was co-founded in 1937 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, and it has helped countless alcoholics to become (and stay) sober. Wilson’s wife Lois formed Al-Anon, a separate support group designed to help the alcoholics’ family members and friends. When Love Is Not Enough is her story, and it is powerful indeed.

I watched this movie by accident – I was out of town, it was on TV, and I just stumbled into it. I could not tear my eyes away from it, for many reasons. First, the superb acting by Winona Ryder and Barry Pepper. Second, the compelling and tragic story. Third: amazing production value. Amazing. We are talking about a CBS “Hallmark Hall of Fame” movie, here, and they are not known for their big budgets.

It is worthwhile to point out that in the film industry there is a fair amount of snobbery. Work on a studio movie: prestigious. Work on an indie? Well, if they have a strong cast, okay. Work on a TV movie? Not as prestigious. Well, you can kiss those notions goodbye, people. See this TV movie and adjust your opinions. What they have achieved is remarkable.

The film was made in Canada, and from what I can gather, utilized a primarily Canadian crew. Costume Designer Trysha Bakker did a fabulous job, taking us from 1914 to 1951. The bulk of the film takes place between 1929 – 1940, and she has executed the period beautifully.

First, we see the young couple, Bill an Lois, in their idyll. This is 1914.

Later, in 1918, we see them get married. Weddings are a huge budget-sucker, and I was impressed at the simplicity and accuracy of the costumes. Unfortunately, I could not find any pictures from the wedding sequence, so please get the DVD and check it out. For some reason, this period has not been explored on screen to the degree other periods in our history have. It was nice to see the fabrics, the silhouettes, the details here. All of the background players were immaculately dressed. It was gorgeous.

As the story unfolds, we see Bill’s downward spiral into the abyss of alcoholism. Lois struggles to hold her own, and the color choices used in her costumes are strong, as seen here: ruby and pink. This is not a fluffy, chiffony 1930s woman. This is a woman who needs to hold the entire house together.  I cannot say enough good things about Ryder’s performance.  She is very strong, emotional, honest and unaffected in this role.  I am so happy she had the opportunity to play this part – I hope it signifies a real comeback for her.  She is so talented, and it’s nice to see her back on screen, telling a story.

Winona Ryder in a heartbreaking performance as Lois Wilson

Winona Ryder in a heartbreaking performance as Lois Wilson

As for Bill’s costumes, I particularly noted the fabrics. The woolens were perfect in their texture, and they photographed beautifully. Same goes for the shirts he wears. The drape of the fabric, the collars and cuffs – it was all very well done.  Age/tech and dye were perfect – really nice job, costume crew.

One note here: look at the beautiful work by the hair department (below) on Barry Pepper. THAT is a good haircut. This made me so happy. And can you see the braces peeking out from under his vest? This is a detail that is often lost in costuming. It’s natural, it’s appropriate, and I love that we can see this. Bravo, costume department, bravo!!!

When Lois holds her first Al-Anon meetings, the attendees are the wives of the husbands in the AA meetings. They are beautifully attired – as we know, alcoholism claims all societal classes, so we have society ladies and working class ladies here. When Lois first approaches the women to come in and talk, they are all waiting in their cars outside the house. As a production detail, even the cars in which these ladies are sitting are magnificent – good job, transpo! Well done!  And let’s look here at the production design – the curtains, the china, the sink, the choice of cookies!  Immaculate!!

Look at the loving detail in these costumes, hair and makeup – I just think it’s brilliant. I know they did not have a lot of money to spend, but the look they were able to achieve is fabulous.

Production design and cinematography certainly augment the overall production value. The sets, the homes in which the Wilsons lived, are stunning. Even on a television, the walnut wood grain jumps out at you. Mellow, earthy tones wash the film with a seriousness befitting its subject. Light is painterly. Here is a scene that takes place in a hospital. Observe:

It’s gorgeous.

I believe that we will be hearing more about this film come Emmy time. It has changed my perception about what TV movies can be. This was a film with a message, for sure, but it wasn’t all about the message. It was about the people who were forced to create a path to health for themselves – they had no choice. It is very compelling filmmaking. Barry Pepper nearly eclipses Ryder with his incarnation of the sad, raging alcoholic Bill. However, Ryder’s portrayal of undying love – unconditional and boundless – is a real revelation.

Lois and Bill Wilson

Lois and Bill Wilson

We should all be thankful for the Wilsons’ legacy – they changed countless lives, and in so doing, changed the world.


PS: All photos of the film come from CBS’ website promoting the film. Please check it out, and make sure to see it on DVD!

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