John J. O'Connor, NY Times:
In "Lily Dale," Horton Foote, author of some 40 plays, rummages once again
through an exquisitely neurasthenic past, its taut emotions stretched almost
painfully beneath flutterings of propriety... Despite a generally fine cast,
there's no Page-like turn to galvanize the production... There are some casting
glitches. Ms. Masterson, daughter of Mr. Masterson, the director, is 30, and
just not terribly convincing as a hopelessly naive 18-year-old. And some
characters remain irritatingly vague. Ms. Channing manages to make the ambiguous
Corella quite moving, but the lanky Mr. Shepard can do little with Mr. Davenport
other than make him look as if he has just wandered in from "The Grapes of
Robert Koehler, LA Times:
Everything in director Peter Masterson's film version of Horton Foote's play
"Lily Dale" on Showtime is saturated in an unrelieving, dull brownness - from
Don Fauntleroy's weak, sepia-toned cinematography to the hazy, lazy nature of
Foote's dramaturgy. Just as it did onstage, this curiously pallid work from an
usually interesting writer just sits there, raising the mystery of why it's here
It isn't as if "Lily Dale" is a cryptic, metaphoric piece of Southern gothic.
Foote's tale is pure simplicity, showing the fleeting reunion of brother Horace
with sister Lily Dale and their mother Corella. After her first husband died a
drunkard, Corella married Pete, whom the children call Mr. Davenport.
Pete is also Mr. Individualism, emphatic that Horace live on his own and fend
for himself. When Pete returns unexpectedly early to the family's Houston home
from an out-of-town trip while Horace is still there, a clash is bound to
happen. The clash, alas, is more like a whimper. Horace lapses into a fever that
makes him bedridden for three weeks and a passive audience for spoiled Lily's
nonstop, self-absorbed monologues. No one in the well-to-do house bothers to
call a doctor to examine Horace - just one of several instances where Foote's
search for ways to dramatize existential ideas collides with credibility.
Horace's fate appears wrapped in the past with his dead father, but Lily wants
nothing to do with the past, happy to tinkle the piano ivories and look pretty
for her suitor. Foote never finds a way to bring this sibling rift to a head;
it's as if the film, like the family, were afraid of conflict. None of this is
good for the actors, who fail to meld into an ensemble. Masterson suggests a
wallflower who's been cooped up too long but misses the air of sadness Foote
seems to be aiming at. Guinee, all manic-depressive angst, and Shepard, who's
never been more sternly taciturn, are acting in two different films.
Tony Scott, Variety:
Despite expository dialogue that occasionally stalls the action, Foote summons
up an engrossing work in which two of the three central people remain constant.
Here's serious, engaging television. Channing's concerned, tightly wound
Corella, charged with conflicting maternalism and self-preservation, remains
uncertain, as she should. Masterson's prattling, insecure Lily Dale is wearing,
but Guinee's self-contained, uncomplaining, repressed Horace glows.
Shepard, admirably sustaining Pete's antagonism toward Horace, develops the
character's gracelessness even further with his acceptance of Will. And
Stapleton's interludes - she reappears - are beautifully realized.
Michael Knue's editing is superior, and art directors Jack Marty and Chris Henry
have resourcefully detailed the turn-of- the-century ambience. Production
designer Barbara Haberecht provides a good, middle-class living area for the
Davenport home and a realistic train interior for Horace's commute. Jean-Pierre
Dorleac's costumes are authentic.
Foote's usual strength is characterization, but this adaptation fails there as
well. Sam Shepard is stolid at best, Masterson merely dislikable (and
uninterestingly so). As a mother and son unable to resume a relationship that
was taken away from them, Stockard Channing and Tim Guinee are appealing and
able; the script's failure to tell us more about them is its chief failing.
Michael Kilian, Chicago Tribune:
More like a filmed play than a play-inspired movie, "Lily Dale" is slow-moving
but compelling. It puts one in mind of a deep-running prairie river. On the
surface, all seems calm and still, but below are swift and dangerous currents.
The film opens with Horace, barely more than a teen, riding a train from a small
Texas town to Houston, where he's to visit his mother (Channing) and sister
(Masterson). We're quickly informed, through his encounter with Stapleton as a
very Baptist busybody, that his family has been ruined and dispersed through the
drunkenness and failures of his father, now dead. The mother and sister live
with the mother's new husband, Shepard, a work-hardened, proud, yet embittered
man who suffered in early life and has charity for none, especially stepson
The husband has kept Horace exiled in that small town, where he labors as a
store clerk without prospects. He has been invited to Houston by his mother only
because his stepfather is away on a trip, but the hard-hearted Shepard returns
too soon, and the dynamic tensions that build through this deceptively simple
tale stem from that point.
Sister Lily Dale, whose devouring insecurities are as evident as her gay
prettiness, is made almost frantic by the threat the unwanted Horace poses to
her refuge "from the past." Alternately detestable and pitiable as masterfully
portrayed by Masterson, Lily Dale is the centerpiece of the story, though by no
means its heroine.