Movie features stellar acting, a touching script but a too-happy ending

A 'LUCKY DAY' FOR VIEWERS ABC

March 11, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun TV Critic RTC

"Lucky Day" almost has it all.

The ABC movie, which will air at 9 tonight on WJZ-TV (Channel 13), has three of the acting performances of the year and a script with enough smarts and touching moments for two or three television movies.

What keeps "Lucky Day" from being flat-out the made-for-TV movie of the year is the ending. It's a little more upbeat than it should be. It cheats in the direction of happily-ever-after the way too many television movies do.

But what a splendid piece of work it is up to that point.

"Lucky Day" starts out as the story of two sisters, Kari (Amy Madigan) and Allison Campbell (Chloe Webb). Allison is mentally retarded. She lives with Kari, who works as a physical therapist and aspires to be an artist.

The first part of the film, which deals with their relationship, is a delight. Kari tells Allison stories in the language of fairy tales and fables in which Allison is always the hero. Allison has her routine, which includes time spent at a workshop with other mentally retarded men and women, watching television and caring for her rabbit, Uncle Stan. Allison also plays a state lottery game.

One day, Allison wins $2 million in the state lottery, and the Campbell sisters' world changes.

The big change is that their mother, Katherine (Olympia Dukakis), wants Allison to come live with her. The rest of the film is about how that wish is resolved between Katherine and Kari.

Watching the two women dance their elaborate version of the emotional minuet between mother and daughter is one of the richer television viewing experiences of the year.

The dramatic edge comes in part simply from the dynamic of these two carefully developed characters. Katherine is a recovering alcoholic. Kari is the emotionally maimed girl/woman-victim of her mother's alcoholism and her own guilt about her feelings as a child toward Allison.

The edge is further honed by the knockout performances of Dukakis and Madigan. Dukakis is hard lines, chin stuck out, dead-ahead determination trying to mask the terror her character feels underneath at not being able to stay sober.

Madigan is all edges, flying off in different directions, a victim of her own inner tension between the good person she seems to want to be and her fear that admitting the rage she has toward her mother and sister will preclude any chance of the kind of goodness and happiness she conjures up in her happy tales for Allison.

The scenes between Kari and her mother snap, crackle and pop as carefully chosen words are used to try and hold back the Freudian torrents of anger, resentment, guilt, melancholy, rage and competition coursing through their veins.

The ending is a sugar pop. But it's not predictable -- give it that.

In fact, nothing about this film is predictable. "Lucky Day" is original, touching, real and wise. It's two hours of television that will leave you feeling uplifted by the indomitability of the human spirit and the capacity of the human heart to remember how to love.

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