By Lisa Schwarzbaum
Updated October 25, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT

Based on the best-selling, Oprah-certified novel by Janet Fitch, this overfertilized hothouse bloom of a production tells the tale of Astrid Magnusson (Alison Lohman) and her magnetically difficult mother, Ingrid (Michelle Pfeiffer), who is imprisoned for killing a boyfriend. Astrid is abandoned to a Dickensian journey through a harsh land of foster homes, which is awful for the girl — but a pick-me-up for the movie. This is thanks to the sheer theatrical strength of the star actresses, including Robin Wright Penn and Renee Zellweger, who humanize Fitch’s cast of melodramatically unfortunate women.