Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Russell Girl

The Hallmark Hall of Fame umbrella series has a history of putting out some of the most beautifully schmaltzy made for tv movies. And the latest entrant into that series, The Russell Girl is a grand addition. Starring Amber Tamblyn (Joan of Arcadia) and Jennifer Ehle (BBC's Pride & Prejudice), this is a small story of a girl's inner turmoil over a years ago incidence that not only affected her life, but the lives of her neighbors.

Tamblyn stars in the title role, and she embodies the role of someone who just brings so much on herself. When she was in high school, she babysat for the MOrriyssey's across the street and through a serious of unfortunate events, tragedy happens. Sarah can't forgive herself and as soon as possible, she moves to Chicago to get away from the past. Mrs. Morriessey (Ehle) also can't forgive shadow, but really she can't forgive anyone, herself included.

While in Chicago, Sarah learns she developed leukemia and before dealing with medical issue, she decides to go home for the first time in a long time. Her mom is so excited to see her, that she doesn't care why she's home. Her father is worried, as he realizes that she has never recovered emotionally from the earlier tragedy. Sarah elects not to tell her family about her illness.

Sarah's appearance in the house across the street does not sit well with Mrs. Morrissey as all of her old thoughts and feelings bubbled to the surface, distressing her husband and teenage sons. She develops severe migraines that keep her from some of her sons' important events. And Sara does not make things easier as she clearly wants to talk, but doesn't really know what to say.

A lot of what happens is coincidence. Mrs. Morrissey is the first person to realize that Sarah is sick because she keeps running into the girl in town as symptoms keep popping up.

But, the acting (as is often the case with shmaltz) really makes the movie work. Both Tamblyn and Ehle keep their performances small, but that adds to the intimacy. And the supporting cast, Matt Czerny as Mr. Morrissey and Tim Dekay as Mr. Russell brought a sense of caring to the role. They clearly wanted to be their for their wife (in Morrissey's case) and daughter (in Russell's case), but it was never clear what the right thing to do was. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio has a harder role, as she plays Sarah's mother who goes through most of the film in a chipper mood wearing blinders. Everyone watching knows that she needs to take the blinders off to really see what is happening with Sarah. Mastrantonio plays the role fine, it's just pretty thankless until the end when she finally gets her chance to say what she thinks.

The DVD is going to be distributed through the Hallmark Gold Crown stores on Feb. 1. And, I might just have to get a copy. Though, I'm afraid something will be lost with the excision of the Hallmark commercials. Some of the commercials can bring me to tears faster than a sappy movie.