By Owen Gleiberman
Updated August 23, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

If you’ve been searching for the sort of movie experience that makes Frank Capra look like a serial killer, this morning-in-America weeper should do the trick. Percy (Alison Elliot), a milky-skinned waif, emerges from a five-year sentence for manslaughter and arrives in the small town of Gilead, Maine, where she goes to work for Hannah (Ellen Burstyn), the ailing proprietor of the Spitfire Grill. The moment you see Ellen Burstyn peering over her granny glasses, rasping out orders in the sort of down-from-the-Mayflower accent generally reserved for local productions of Our Town, you know she’s half an hour away from melting into an old softy. But then, Percy seems to have this effect on everybody. She’s so life-affirming, so good, she’s a regular angel; her story has been engineered to bring a lump to the throat of everyone from Andrea Dworkin to Ralph Reed. Elliot, a gifted actress, has a doleful sensuality that holds The Spitfire Grill together (at least, when it’s not collapsing into absurd episodes about Burstyn’s phantom-of-the-woods visitant), and the notion of raffling off the Spitfire Grill with an essay contest has a musty, Old Hollywood charm. Still, you’d have to be awfully desperate for cheap tears to fall for this piece of sentimental Prozac. C+

The Spitfire Grill

  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • Lee David Zlotoff