PLODDING and predictable plotting mar what could have been an exceptional movie in "To My Daughter," NBC's movie offering tonight on Channel 2 (WMAR) at 9 o'clock.
The based-on-a-true-story setup has Rue McClanahan showing considerably more range than she gets to demonstrate on "The Golden Girls" every week. Here, she is Laura Carlson, an English teacher and the single mother of three, but the mother superior of one, her eldest.
The eldest is Julie, played by Michele Greene, an up and coming writer. We see her screenplay produced on television and know that she's working on a book about the Hollywood blacklist during the McCarthy era before she learns she's got an inoperable brain tumor.
Julie's death eventually forces Laura to realize that she's got two other kids -- a college-age son Bobby (Ty Miller) and a teen-age daughter Anne (Samantha Mathis) -- and come to terms with the fact that she's been living her life vicariously through her favorite daughter, neglecting her two other children.
Unfortunately, eventually is the operative word in that description. Though Greene, who's so good on "L.A. Law," turns in a fine performance as Julie -- she's especially able to convey the core of her character's personality behind the mask of pain and drugs as the illness takes its toll -- just a thumbnail description of the movie's plot lets you know the real drama is not going to start until after her death.
Even then, it takes scene after scene for the film to get around to Laura confronting her other two kids. It's as if the film is two-thirds appetizer and one-third main course, painstakingly setting up its situation even after you've figured it out and just want the script to start resolving things.
When the plot does get around to Laura and her other two kids, there are some fine scenes as all three try to come to terms with the fact that Laura and Julie did have a special friendship worthy of honor but that that fact should not displace the mother-child relationship that the other kids -- and their mother, for that matter -- need, too.
The central element, then, is Laura's determination to complete the book that Julie had left unfinished. It's a project that begins as another bothersome homage to the perfection of the dead woman but that is eventually transformed into an opportunity for Laura to develop her own identity as a writer, to cease living through Julie's accomplishments even as she honors her daughter's talent.
At the end, "To My Daughter" develops the power to deliver some genuine insight along with a strong emotional impact. But it's a test of your patience to get to that point.
"To My Daughter"
** After a young, successful writer dies of a brain tumor, he mother is determined to finish the book her favorite daughter left behind, even if it means further neglecting her other two children.
CAST: Rue McClanahan, Michele Greene
TIME: 9 o'clock tonight
CHANNEL: NBC Channel 2 (WMAR)
'DAUGHTER'See 'DAUGHTER', D2, Col. 1
'DAUGHTER', From D1