The Deep End of the Ocean

             Movies made from best-selling books can fall roughly into three
     categories: those that are faithful to the source material but find an unique
     perspective; those that botch the job, violating the spirit of the original
     source material; and those that fall somewhere in-between being too
     faithful and failing completely.
The Deep End of the Ocean directed by
     Ulu Grosbard and adapted from Jacqueline Mitchard novel by critic and
     screenwriter Stephen Schiff falls squarely in the latter camp. Capturing the
     essence of Mitchard's fiction but remaining too narrowly focused, the film
     works on its own merits but doesn't pack the emotional wallop it should.

             At the start, the audience sees a fairly typical family; caring husband
     Pat (Treat Williams), slightly flighty mother Beth (Michelle Pfeiffer), two
     adorable young boys and a baby girl preparing as mom and the kids head
     off to Chicago for her college reunion. Once at the hotel, the camera
     captures the flurry of activities, the hustle, the crowds, often from a child's
     perspective. Beth briefly leaves the boys alone with her luggage while she
     checks into the hotel. When she returns, the unthinkable has happened.
     Her middle son Ben has disappeared. It's every parent's nightmare and
     these scenes have a frightening urgency as it becomes clear that Ben
     has not simply wandered away. Pfeiffer as Beth gradually goes to pieces
     and she is mesmerizing.

             The police offer little hope, but a relatively friendly detective (a
     wasted Whoopi Goldberg) promises to do what she can. Beth returns home
     where depression overtakes her. She clears out her photographic studio,
     spends hours in bed sleeping and essentially neglects her other children.
     She arrives late to pick up her son Vincent (a terrific turn by child actor
     Cory Buck) from school. One day she forgets completely and he is forced
     to walk home. Coming in the house, he finds his baby sister crying. After
     giving her a bottle, he casually breaks a vase as a means of expressing
     his pent-up rage. Family and friends try everything to comfort and assist
     them (including using a national magazine for a story), but Beth is

             The years pass and the family goes on, adopting a form of normalcy
     with tensions bubbling just under the surface. Vincent has matured into
     a sullen and withdrawn teenager. Pat and Beth co-exist but somehow
     seem not to be able to communicate. They moves to the Chicago area
     where Pat's parents live and he realizes his dream of opening an Italian
     restaurant. One afternoon, a neighborhood kid comes to the door and
     offers to mow the lawn. Beth is struck by the boy, hires him and
     surreptitiously photographs him, convinced he is her son. And indeed
     he turns out to be. The film then kicks into gear as Ben, now called Sam,
     tries to adjust to living with his "family". He had been raised by a decent
     man who knew nothing of the circumstances of his kidnapping and therein
     lies the conflict. Basically good people are torn apart over what is best
     for the child.
             Grosbard has directed the picture in a direct and understated fashion
     that showcases the talents of his actors. While Williams has little to do
     in comparison with the rest of the principle cast, he cannot be faulted.
     This is Pfeiffer's show (her production company developed the property)
     and she does not disappoint. An elegant actress, she captured the tortured
     psyche of this woman — who blames herself for her child's disappearance
     and who comes to accept the responsibility for the splintering of her family.
     She is matched in tone and tenor by the two young actors playing her sons.
     Ryan Merriman as Ben/Sam has perhaps the most difficult role but perfectly
     captures and telegraphs the frustrations and confusion of a child torn
     between two families. Jonathan Jackson (known to daytime television fans
     as Lucky Spencer on
"General Hospital") delivers a solid performance as
     the troubled Vincent. Also good is John Kapelos as the decent man who
     has raised Sam/Ben.

             While there are surface similarities to Robert Redford's superb study
     of WASP angst
Ordinary People, The Deep End of the Ocean doesn't
     quite fall into the same league. Mitchard's source material opts for an
     ending that seems straight out of Hollywood and apparently there was
     some discussion over whether it would be used in the  film. Reportedly
     Pfeiffer favored a different conclusion, but in the end, Mitchard's version
     won out. The overall effect is that what should have been a real
     tear-jerker only offers a few lump-in-the-throat moments. Still,
       The Deep End of the Ocean has at its center the luminous Pfeiffer and
     she is worth the price of admission.

                                             Rating:      B
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.