Sony // 2008 // 89 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // January 10th, 2009
Every family lives a relative truth.
In 1964, Dr. David Henry (Dermot Mulroney, My Best Friend's Wedding) is living comfortably in Kentucky with his pretty wife Nora (Gretchen Mol, The Notorious Bettie Page). During a harsh snowstorm, his wife goes into labor and gives birth to twins, a son named Paul and a daughter named Phoebe.
David is shocked to discover that Phoebe is a "mongoloid" (stricken with Down Syndrome) and proceeds to get rid of her because of a similar condition which took his sister at age 12. Out of desperation, he gives it to his nurse Caroline (Emily Watson, Red Dragon), who takes in Phoebe without objecting or asking questions. Refusing to give Phoebe away to a mental home, Caroline ends up meeting and falling in love with a kind trucker.
As the years pass, the Henry's marriage gets more and more cracked, while Phoebe grows up in a happy home. When Dr. Henry gets more interested in photography, he monitors his daughter and takes pictures of her. Will he regret his decision and eventually spill his deep, dark secret to his unhappy wife?
Based on the best-selling novel by Kim Edwards, The Memory Keeper's Daughter is a made-for-TV adaptation which doesn't have near the emotional impact of its source. Part of this is due to several key characters being dropped and much of the scenes discarded, resulting in a movie which barely runs an hour-and-a-half. However, the cast and filmmakers are largely to blame, as they treat the material in a lackadaisical manner, while also telegraphing too many plot points ahead of time. Pedestrian direction by Mick Jackson (The Bodyguard) doesn't help either, as his ineffectual flashbacks and tendency to use slow-motion only makes the whole affair more sappy than it should be.
Like Jacquelyn Mitchard's book "The Deep End of the Ocean" (similar in tone and flow, if not in story), Edward's excellent novel was too good for television and should have been adapted into a mainstream motion picture. The cast of this small scale version would seem to suggest that, but all three of the leads are supremely wasted, including the gifted Emily Watson who seems lost from beginning to end. I absolutely adored Gretchen Mol in The Notorious Bettie Page but here she is given a part with no emotional makeup. The worst of the lot is Mulroney, who seems dull and bored as he drifts from scene to scene at a snail's pace. At least Jaime Spilchuk (a real life woman with Down Syndrome who plays the adult version of Phoebe) manages to make an impression in her few scenes.
Premiering on the Lifetime Channel in April 2008, The Memory Keeper's Daughter was (surprisingly) the highest watching cable show of the week. As a result, Sony stepped into deliver the film on DVD, and the fine technical treatment is more than the film deserves. The picture is in full frame and it's clean for the most part. Colors are a bit muted as the screen sports that shabby made-for-TV look. Four DD 5.1 Surround tracks are offered in English, Portuguese, Spanish and Thai, with subtitles in all of those languages as well as Chinese; better than expected, but still unnecessary. No extras at all.
Trust me: read the book instead, you'll be much better off. As for the
verdict, the film is found guilty while Sony is free to go due to their modest
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Thai)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated