Square Dance (1987)

Square Dance (1987) - Winona Ryder

Gemma is 13 years old lives with her grandpa in the country, she has for many years. One day her mother shows up, and wants to take Gemma to the city. Her mother is married now, and can provide for Gemma. Gemma goes with her mother. In the city she gets to know Rory, an mentally disabled boy. They play together, imagining that they are married.

Square Dance (television broadcast title: Home Is Where the Heart Is) is a 1987 American drama film written by Alan Hines, who also wrote the novel of the same name. The film was directed by Daniel Petrie and released on February 20, 1987, primarily remembered now for having earned Rob Lowe his only Golden Globe Award nomination for a film role.

Film Review for Square Dance

AS anyone who took square dancing at summer camp knows, ”home” is the position from which all steps originate and the spot to which a dancer returns after do-si-do-ing. This is the signally simple metaphor that hangs over ”Square Dance” like a heart-shaped, helium-filled balloon with a slow leak.

The film, directed by Daniel Petrie and adapted by Alan Hines from his own novel, is a sentimental journey into the kind of Texas landscapes that Horton Foote evokes with far more rigor and humor. It opens today at the Plaza theater.

Square Dance (1987)

“Square Dance” is all about home, in this case the Texas “scratch farm” owned by crusty old Grandpa Dillard (Jason Robards). Grandpa’s wife is dead and his only child, Juanelle (Jane Alexander), has long since fled Twilight (for that, indeed, is the name of this small town) for the bright lights of Fort Worth.

The old man’s only companion is God-fearing Gemma (Winona Ryder), Juanelle’s 12-year-old daughter, who sings in the church choir and seems perfectly happy until the appearance one afternoon of her mother, who’s come to fetch her. The chain-smoking Juanelle, with her dyed hair, her junk jewelry and her short, tight denim skirt, appalls Gemma, who doesn’t want to be liberated, especially by a jade like Juanelle.

Not long afterward, however, Gemma has a tiff with Grandpa and takes off for Fort Worth where, in a dim, no-man’s land on the city’s edge, she shares quarters above a garage with her mother and stepdad, Frank (Guich Koock).

In the course of “Square Dance,” Gemma comes not only to know and love her rough-edged mom, whose heart is 24-karat-soft, but also to appreciate the place that, be it ever so humble, there’s no other location like. She even becomes a woman, on-screen (though discreetly), and experiences the first hints of romantic and sexual love in an innocent relationship with an “older” man.

Square Dance (1987) - Winona Ryder

He is Rory (Rob Lowe), a mentally retarded fellow who hangs around the beauty shop where his mother and Juanelle work. Rory’s idea of contentment is to chew on a button. As he has fantasies about being married to Gemma, she sees in him the sweetness that has somehow become lost in all of the other adults she knows.

There’s a good deal more plot than this to “Square Dance,” though nothing that happens comes as much of a surprise. It recalls “Tender Mercies,” but lacks that film’s beautifully realized sense of character, place and time. Mr. Hines is a native Texan, yet ”Square Dance” is a movie that could have been inspired by attending to the films, plays and novels of other writers.

Miss Alexander, who’s also the movie’s co-executive producer, obviously likes her lady-within-the-tramp role, and plays it without going overboard, but also without being especially interesting. The same is true of Mr. Robards and Miss Ryder. It may be the material. The most arresting performance is Mr. Lowe’s. The audience’s attention is grabbed, if only to see whether he’s going to go too far, which he doesn’t. He’s good, as are two other performers in small roles, Mr. Koock and Elbert Lewis, who plays an ancient friend out of Grandpa Dillard’s childhood.

Square Dance Movie Poster (1987)

Square Dance (1987)

Directed by: Daniel Petrie
Starring: Jason Robards, Jane Alexander, Winona Ryder, Rob Lowe, Deborah Richter, Guich Koock, Charlotte Stanton, Irma P. Hall, Barbara Britt, Gwen Little
Screenplay by: Alan Hines
Production Design by: Jan Scott
Cinematography by: Jacek Laskus
Film Editing by: Bruce Green
Costume Design by: Elizabeth McBride
Set Decoration by: Erica Rogalla
Music by: Bruce Broughton
Distributed by: Island Pictures
Release Date: February 20, 1987