'Portrait' bears real family resemblance

TV REVIEW

February 13, 1993|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

Parents and children, children and parents . . . the course of life inexorably reshapes this never-simple relationship, whose only constants are change -- and persistent attention from thoughtful artists.

"The Portrait," a cable film premiering tonight on the TNT service (at 8 o'clock, repeating at 10 p.m. and midnight), would rate notice if only for the magnitude of its stars, veterans Gregory Peck and Lauren Bacall. Mr. Peck's daughter, Cecilia Peck, also performs with her father for the first time.

But director Arthur Penn's adaptation of Tina Howe's play, "Painting Churches," also tells a moving story which, if sometimes forced and stagy, will resonate within many a family.

Mr. Peck's portrayal of an aging poet and college professor who has begun to lose his mental acuity comes across as particularly touching and believable.

The co-stars reunited for the film for the first time since starring together in 1957's "Designing Women," in which he was a sportswriter and she his fashion designer wife.

Viewers should know "The Portrait" will strongly evoke the 1981 film "On Golden Pond," down to the father/daughter co-star angle. (Henry and Jane Fonda starred in that Oscar-winning movie.)

The new movie, however, comes across as less confrontational and more understated. Viewers have to feel between the lines for the emotion of the story.

The scenario is simple: Ms. Peck plays Mags, the artist daughter of Gardner and Fanny Church (Mr. Peck and Ms. Bacall). She comes home from New York City, where we see she's recently broken a relationship, to finish a portrait of her parents to hang in a gallery show.

She is surprised to find them packing up the old homestead, having sold it in preparation for moving to their summer place. (See? A lot like "On Golden Pond," although Mr. Peck's character goes out on a lake in a rowing scull, while Mr. Fonda paddled a canoe.)

The reason for the move, however, becomes clear only slowly, as Mags sees evidence of memory lapses in her father. She also finds herself trying to address old grievances, having felt all her life that the love between her parents left no room for her.

Viewers need nothing more to divine the emotional ground to be covered. But the ending plays less somberly than it might have, and the awkward gaps between parents and child seem true to life.

*

AFRICAN-AMERICAN IMAGES -- WJZ-Channel 13 offers a star-filled and thoughtful two-part Black History Month special tonight and tomorrow night.

"Images and Reality: The African-American Family" can be seen at 7 each night, with actor Danny Glover presiding over a historical survey that will challenge some stereotypes.

A variety of prominent blacks, including performers such as Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Vanessa Williams and Esther Rolle, photographer Gordon Parks and academics project the message that, as Mr. Glover puts it, "our families are very much alive and well."

Mr. Parks' comments, for example, include the assertion that, although his mother died when he was young, his parents "provided me enough love to sustain me the rest of my life."

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