'Mom for Christmas' spins a fairy tale to lift the spirits

December 17, 1990|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Think myth, magic and fairy tale when you sit down to watch Olivia Newton-John make her TV movie debut in "A Mom for Christmas" at 9 tonight on WMAR-TV (Channel 2). As a fairy tale with lots of holiday trimmings and spirit, it's a pleasant little made-for-TV film.

"A Mom for Christmas" stars Juliet Sorcey as Jessica Slocum, an 11-year-old whose mother has died. Jessica lives alone with her father, a workaholic played by Doug Sheehan. She spends her after-school hours at a large department store admiring the displays and looking wistfully at other girls who are shopping with their mothers.

One day, Jessica shares her secret wish -- to have her own mom -- with a woman who dresses mannequins in the store. The woman, Philomena (Doris Roberts), turns out to have magic powers: She can make mannequins come to life.

Philomena sends Jessica a mom for the holidays in the person of Amy Miller (Newton-John), who applies to be a sort of nanny and housekeeper at Jessica's house. The deal is, though, that Amy turns back into a mannequin at midnight Christmas Eve.

The film is at its silliest when it tries to show us the secret life of mannequins at night after the store closes. It is at its best when it reaches for more complicated human feelings, like the anger Jessica and her father feel toward Amy after she accidentally starts a fire that destroys photographs of Jessica's dead mom. In between is Newton-John's singing.

Eventually, everybody winds up loving Amy, but there's that darn Christmas Eve back-to-the-mannequin business. The magical Philomena tells Jessica that there is one slim chance that if everybody loves Amy and holds onto her hard enough at midnight, she will not return to mannequin-land.

The ending is probably not going to surprise anyone above the age of reason. But that's not what this film is about. It's about family, community, the holidays and an adolescent girl's passage from childhood to adulthood with her idealism intact.

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