'To My Daughter' toys with emotions


November 26, 1990|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

"To My Daughter" is one of those made-for-TV movies that cheats in the most maddening way. The film, which airs at 9 tonight on WMAR-TV (Channel 2), is good enough to make viewers care about its characters. But down the stretch, it bails out for empty solutions and easy emotions. It loses its nerve. And it is going to leave many viewers feeling they have been toyed with.

Rue McClanahan plays Laura Carlston, a high school English teacher who has been living vicariously through her daughter, Julie (Michele Greene), a successful Hollywood screen writer. The relationship between these two is so close it leaves Laura's other children, Bobby (Ty Miller) and Ann (Samantha Mathis), feeling estranged.

Julie dies unexpectedly. But even in death, Laura can't give up the obsessive relationship. She retreats so far into her dead daughter's life that any chance of a relationship with her two living children is nearly lost. The last half of the film details Laura's battle to finish a book Julie had started and rediscover Bobby and Ann.

The best thing about the film is McClanahan's performance. She shows nuance of emotion that will surprise many who only know her work on "The Golden Girls."

One of the worst things about the film is also McClanahan's performance. She is in virtually every frame. And McClanahan, though a very good actress, is not good enough to carry two full hours virtually alone.

The last half-hour is filled with so many happy solutions and hugs that you almost expect to see Julie reappear and hear someone say it was all a mistake, that they only thought she died or maybe Laura only dreamed it, like Pam did with Bobby Ewing on "Dallas."

This is not said to make light of a loved one's death. It is an attempt to arm viewers against a film that tries to exploit those painful feelings.

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