October 07, 1991 12:00 PM

Laura Dern, Robert Duvall

Rose (Dern) is a rambler all right. She comes sashaying into sleepy Glenville, Ga., along about 1935 and leaves in her fantail more disasters than were wrought by Sherman’s army. As written (novel and screenplay) by Calder Willingham, she’s a well-meaning sort. “There was no trace of harm in her, a kinder or more good-hearted girl never lived,” remembers the man she helped raise (John Heard, segueing into flashback). But Rose has a flaw, and it’s a whopper: She can’t keep her hands off any man of any age who wanders by.

The first object of her generous affections is the head of the household where she has come to work. That’s Robert Duvall, who almost succumbs to her lap-top importunings after dinner one balmy night while two of his children peek delightedly through the door. Duvall manages to resist her charms with this memorable line: “Get up, Rose, and put that tit back in your dress.”

She does, for a time. Daddy and son Buddy (played as a boy by Lukas Haas) set her loose in the town in hopes that she’ll find a suitable mate. The result? Their front lawn becomes a nightly battlefield for Rose’s bounty. But though she’s trouble, Rose is stoutly defended by the matriarch of the manor (Diane Ladd), designated the local liberal feminist freethinker because she went to Columbia University.

Rose eventually finds Mister Right after a series of calamitous escapades with uncountable Mister Wrongs that turn the house—tilted enough on its foundations—wildly upside down. It’s all in good fun, of course, in the dying tradition of southern-gothic opera bouffe. Mainly, the movie establishes Dern (Wild at Heart), doing her stuff as Daisy Mae waylaid, as the ranking female clown of her under-30 class. She’s even a match for Duvall (Colors)—which takes some doing, for Duvall, as he gets more crotchety and more crazed with each performance, has finally carved a splendid place for himself in viewers’ hearts: He has become this generation’s Burgess Meredith. (R)

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