No director alive can make family melodramas as brilliantly as Douglas Sirk once did, but I'd suggest that Robert Benton comes the closest. Though filmmakers continue to grind out weepies by the truckload, it's extremely difficult to find that exact thread between heavy and hammy, perhaps even more difficult than making a funny comedy. Weepies generally tell depressing stories, about death, disease, failed romances, unrequited romances, estranged romances, etc. The trick is not to make the film itself depressing. Most directors make the mistake of shooting the material head-on, which has the effect of bludgeoning the audience rather than coaxing them in. Part of Sirk's genius was his timing; he made his best films in the 1950s when you couldn't show everything. He used his skills, his palate of colors, space and the elements, to suggest, rather than tell, his stories.

Admittedly, Benton isn't as visually astute as Sirk, but he's a good writer, good with words and characters. He has lots of different kinds of films on his resume -- he's often attracted to crime stories -- but his melodramas almost always hit home: Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), for which he won a Best Director Oscar, Places in the Heart (1984), and Nobody's Fool (1994). Even his previous film, The Human Stain (2003), worked on a basic, emotional level, though critics generally dismissed it because of its failure to live up to Philip Roth's novel and its mismatched casting of Wentworth Miller as a young Anthony Hopkins. Benton's new movie has less of a pristine literary pedigree, and so perhaps it will go down easier.