|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a sullen and withdrawn teenager.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.
|© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.