There's a man. There's a woman. There's passion between them. But the whole damn world says no, no, no to their relationship. Whatever will become of them and their love? It's an old, old, old formula at the center of "Crazy From the Heart," a made-for-cable movie premiering at 8 tonight on TNT. But with Christine Lahti and Ruben Blades as the unlikely lovers and a script that says some of the smartest things ever said on TV about racism, old is good. "Crazy From the Heart" is involving, uplifting and wise. It's one of the best made-for-TV movies of the year.
Lahti plays Charlotte Bain, a white high school principal headed for assistant superintendent of the whole district. She's on the fast track in Tidewater, a fictional Texas town where class and racial distinctions still are strictly observed.
Blades plays Ernesto Ontiveros, a Mexican-American who owns a small ranch that has fallen on hard times. To try to save the ranch, he takes a job as janitor at Charlotte's high school.
It's clear that there is something happening from their first meeting when he arrives at her office to fix the toilet in her private bathroom. Yes, there is a bit of the old D.H. Lawrence lady-and-the-handyman business going on. But the film goes beyond that.
"Crazy From the Heart" constantly hooks you with a familiar situation, but then goes on to make you see people in new ways.
Initially, it looks as if the film is going to stumble into the arguably sexist rut of showing us a successful career woman, but then telling us how unhappy she is because she's uptight and doesn't have a real man. It also looks as if the film is headed for the arguably racist rut of suggesting that persons of color are somehow more in touch with the rhythms of nature.
Stay with "Crazy From the Heart" through those early moments, because the payoffs are great. Great acting by Lahti and Blades. Great minor characters in Tomas Ontiveros (Tommy Muniz), Ernesto's father, and Dewey Whitcomb (William Russ), as the high school coach without passion who wants to marry Charlotte. Great wisdom. Great heart.