A Discussion of The Whole Wide World

I’ve been looking for this movie for a few years now. Still new to the internet, only recently did it occur to me that I could order it, but then I found it cheap at a discount store. I am an admitted and proud Robert E. Howard fan, and The Whole Wide World is an adaptation of a memoire written about him by Novalyne Price Ellis. It is interesting because it’s a sort of biopic but it views its target through someone else’s eyes.

Vincent D’Onofrio plays Robert E. Howard, self described as the greatest writer in the whole wide world. Howard was by all means an eccentric person, possibly bordering on lunacy, and here D’Onofrio plays him in a loud and powerful fashion. We mostly see him through the eyes of young Novalyne, played by Renee Zellweger. This is an important aspect; the film does not strive to paint Howard as a saint or a sinner, instead it shows us how he was seen by one person, for all his flaws and triumphs, who loves him.

Howard does indeed have a few flaws, and in fact when my grandmother watched this film she described him at one point as a “Bully, who needs his ass kicked.” I can’t argue with that, his instability and penchant to act with his heart makes him come across as rough on occasion but the film doesn’t attempt to paint Novalyne as innocent of charges either, so we can somewhat understand Howard’s destabilizing condition. 

Howard is painted as a man who shouts his dialogue as he types it, and isn’t afraid to pantomime scenes from his writings to make sure they work. One thing I enjoyed was that his stories were treated with a  type of reverence; sounds of swords clanging and women shouting, and drums would play faintly in the background as his words were read. An especially funny scene has Novalyne attempting to read one of his stories, we do not hear dialogue but only faint sounds that might accompany the tale, and then she quickly closes the magazine because such stories are not proper for a young lady.

The Whole Wide World is a good film, but it is essentially a film about characters that drive around and talk. That’s what Howard and Novalyne liked to do, and that’s what the movie is about. It’s a testament to the actors, director, and the real life inspirations that this movie is as entertaining as it is. It’s a mediocre love story, set in nowhere with people who do little. But the personalities sweep us up and we enjoy being swept. I’m tempted to give it a lesser rating, but my own status as a Howard fan demands that this film gets a 4/5.


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