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One True Thing movie poster

One True Thing - Movie Synopsis & Plot

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Few moments in life are as powerful, emotionally charged or rife with humor as returning home to visit your parents as an adult. For ambitious New Yorker Ellen Gulden, the journey back to her quaint hometown in the midst of a crisis is all of those things. But it also becomes an unexpected battle for reconciliation and redemption - a search not only for the secret truth of her parents' lives but for the purpose of her own.

Universal Pictures' One True Thing is the funny, tender and ultimately uplifting tale of a woman forced to enter her mother's and father's private world-only to find everything she thought she knew about her family, her past and even life itself about to be challenged. Based on Pulitzer Prize winner Anna Quindlen's novel, One True Thing.

Renee Zellweger is Ellen Gulden, a young investigative journalist who lives on a heady mixture of ambition, perfectionism and caffeine. Her single-minded drive is career - until news from home shatters her focus. In the midst of a family emergency, Ellen takes a sabbatical lasting from fall's first blush through the stormy winter holidays. She gives up her demanding New York job and leaves behind her difficult boyfriend, sacrificing her very identity. Returning to leaf-strewn Langhorne disgruntled and discombobulated, Ellen finds herself living once again with her middle-aged parents.

While in Langhorne, Ellen hopes to continue her probing story on a troubled senator with whom she attended Harvard, but little does she know the most important investigation of her life is about to take place in the family home.

At first, Ellen is thrown right back into childhood, her every action nothing more than a rebellious reaction to her parents' divergent personalities. Ellen, of course, loves her parents - she just can't fathom them. Her vibrant, tolerant, hypermaternal mother Kate, played by Meryl Streep, is a truly happy homemaker who would just as soon knit or upholster as talk politics or literature. Her father George, played by William Hurt, is Kate's seeming antithesis - a brilliant, charming, hypercritical professor of literature who lives a passionate life of the mind while remaining cut-off from his loved ones. Even Kate and George's romance, so tenderhearted and magical at times, is a mystery.

Ellen has always been more like George - cool, cerebral, relying on her brain rather than her heart. By contrast, her brother Brian (Tom Everett Scott) has always been most like Kate - a lively, luminous soul who gets a kick out of life's smaller pleasures. But when they all come together, funny misunderstandings and painful miscommunications abound. This is especially true of Ellen and Kate, who clash on every topic, from bright versus black clothing to Erma Bombeck versus Tolstoy to the importance of family versus career.

But now, with the family's future under imminent threat, Ellen is placed in the ultimate real-life pressure cooker situation: she must get to know both of her parents as she has never known them before, on equal footing, as adults. Braving the terror of what she might find, Ellen enters the full complexities of their daily existence. On the inside of her mother's frighteningly domestic circle of ladies' clubs, cake-baking and Christmas tree decorating, Ellen uncovers a wise, passionate, amazingly strong woman she has always underestimated. Meanwhile, deep within her father's intimidating genius and success, she discovers secrets and betrayals that reveal his poignant and vulnerable humanity.

Connection and loss, revelation and mystery unfold in this unforgettable season of changes for the Guldens. And in the middle of it all, the savvy investigative journalist Ellen Gulden probes to the core of what she has spent her life avoiding: the meaning of love, that One True Thing, within and beyond her family.

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