Monday, January 28, 2008

The Russell Girl

(Sarah and Lorraine in Lorraine's studio) Some critics have woefully misunderstood a Hallmark film that aired last night on CBS, The Russell Girl. Don't proceed if you want to see it unspoiled. I disagree with the critics and found the exquisite performance of Amber Tamblyn (of Joan of Arcadia fame) more than enough to make it worth watching. She plays Sarah Russell, a college graduate who arrives home unwilling to tell her family or friends that she is dying of leukemia.

Tamblyn elegantly plays the inner wrenching as the happy family celebrates her admission to Northwestern’s prestigious medical school.

For reasons unknown, neighbor Lorraine, well played by Jennifer Ehle, just seethes with rage towards "the Russell girl." The simple fact that Sarah has returned home causes Lorraine to plunge into debilitating depression. She brutally rebukes modest efforts by Sarah to right whatever wrong occurred in the past. Most viewers will correctly expect an accident of some kind, quickly confirmed as occurring six years earlier but not specified. The film makes no effort to be suspenseful, mysterious, frightening, or even dramatic, which I consider courageous. The critics call it painfully slow. I call it painfully real.

A young woman barely into her twenties is dying, keeping it a secret, and refusing herself treatment. Halfway into the film we see the flashback. As a babysitter, distracted by the older boys, Sarah lost sight of an infant in a walker for 15 seconds. Fifteen month old Jennifer walked into the basement stair well and fell to her death. Although the hatred is killing her, Lorraine cannot forgive. No apology can right what occurred.

The first break occurs when Sarah suffers an episode associated with her illness on the sidewalk and Lorraine sees her. Sarah looks terrible and almost falls, insisting she is fine as she controls a drop to sit on the sidewalk. She again extends an olive branch only to receive another cruel rejection, but the shift in Lorraine is perceptible.

Later, while reading material on cancer on her porch, Sarah’s nose starts bleeding, and Lorraine sees it and also notices the papers, now clear that Sarah is gravely ill. Now the transformation occurs quickly, opening up the possibility of a healing perspective. The light bulb flashes and everything clicks. Of course they could have kept the door to the basement locked. Of course they could have installed an infant proof gate. Of course two fighting nine year old boys can distract a fourteen year old babysitter for 15 seconds. Regarding the purchased but un-installed gate that would have prevented the accident, Lorraine has the best line in the film, telling her husband, "I bought the wrong screws."

One of my best friends lost a baby daughter. It leaves a mark.

(Sarah finally telling romantically interested Evan why she's been resisting his advances.) Lorraine's animosity disintegrates and the forgiveness is immediate, removing the blinders that allow her to see Sarah’s profound suffering and belief that she deserves her illness and should die. Sarah confesses, "Ever since Jennifer died I’ve been waiting for the other shoe." Played perfectly, not dramatic, her confession is gut wrenching. Lorraine will have none of this now, "If you don’t tell your family, I will."

Sarah speaks the second best line of the film, very simple, but spoken in front of Lorraine, her mother, her father, and her brother, "I’m sick."


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I saw it last night, and your take is pretty good. Sarah was played perfectly. It just hurt to watch.

I teared up several times. We can peacefully disagree about the best line. I think the line about waiting for the other shoe was the killer.

The show was just brutal.

I did not find it slow or boring at all. To the contrary, it seemed so real that it wasn't like watching a movie. Know what I mean?

When you watch Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter or James Bond, it is such a farce. You're watching a movie.

This work feels completely different. You are watching life, imperfect people with flaws and problems and struggling against pain, anger, fear, guilt, mistakes they can't correct, and resentment.

Yeah, reality.

Good post. Your blog has depth.

1/28/2008 8:15 PM  
Anonymous The Navigator said...

I also saw the film and agree, but you have to understand most movie watchers want explosions, car chases, guns in faces, adultery, hot romance, rape, violence, brutality, and no amount of sex is too much.

A psychologically deep and real life paced portrayal of crushing guilt, devastating resentment and hatred, and the true frailty of the human condition and our failure to communicate is not easy viewing.

Its appreciation requires a maturity of spirit and the ability to recognize and understanding finer distinctions in the faces, words, tones of voice, and body language of the fine performers.

I enjoyed the film. I also agree with anon here. Sarah's delivery of the line about "the other shoe" tops the film. It was so perfect I forgot I was watching a performance and had the experience of Sarah as real. Tamblyn could not have been better.

Because this was a Hallmark TV film, it will receive none of the attention it deserves, and the critics using their paradigms will fail to appreciate what the film provides.

Some politicos may not like it when you post things like this. Screw 'em. Posts like these give your blog a character I don't find in others.

Keep it up.

By the way, good job getting ranked 5th in the state of politically influential blogs. I don't understand it at all. I must say the thought of right wing GOP goons reading a post about The Russell Girl, or better yet, the Border, both sugars and creams my coffee.

1/29/2008 6:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This Hallmark Hall of Fame show was too weird for me.
Kinda like this blog. Food for thought when you've had a bottle or 2 of good robust red wine.
Go X4MR.

1/29/2008 8:15 PM  
Anonymous The Navigator said...

Anon, Hehe. x4mr has gone places you don't want to contemplate. Your remark about the bottles of red wine is most appropriate.

This is by far my favorite blog. When you click on this place, you truly don't know what you are about to read. Probably politics, but maybe a movie review or some difficult to process border content or an off the wall post about a watch featuring a link to hell, or a rant about the challenges of econometrics.

The post about a jeopardy game at the border freaked more than a few.

No joke, I had several drinks after reading that jeopardy story.

1/29/2008 8:57 PM  

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