Judge Diane Wild doesn't enjoy kicking puppies, but she does it when she has to.
A true story of desperation and courage.
And Then There Was One is an unfortunately titled 1993 made-for-TV movie based on the tragic true story of television writers Vinnie and Roxy Ventola (Dennis Boutsikaris and Amy Madigan) and their baby daughter Miranda, who were all diagnosed with the AIDS virus.
The story opens with the Ventolas' wedding and Roxy's voiceover informing us that "suffering's as much a part of life as happiness." Between the title, the ominous foreshadowing, and the synopsis on the DVD case which reveals the triple diagnosis, the first 30 minutes leading up to that point feel rushed and beside the point, yet take up a third of the running time. We see the Ventolas struggle to conceive and succeed in selling their sitcom to a network. We see Miranda get ill with what's at first thought to be the flu, then pneumonia. Then the underlying cause is discovered, and we get the revelation that both her parents have AIDS as well (the movie never makes the distinction between HIV positive and AIDS). From that point, And Then There Was One deals with their attempts to live as normally as possible with the knowledge that their entire family is dying.
Though today people can live longer, more full lives with HIV than in the early days of the disease, the movie, which is set in the late 80s, never presents much hope for the Ventolas.
The story loses its emotional effect because we don't get to know these characters as real people. Pre-diagnosis, we see a perfect marriage between two always happy and affectionate people. Post-diagnosis, we hear platitudes about God and thankfulness and overcoming adversity and prejudice, and the two take turns feeling despondent and optimistic. None of it really rings true, despite its basis in truth. The filmmakers may have thought the story was compelling enough on its own, but without the help of well-developed characters, it feels oddly jarring.
The leads are fine, but some of the supporting characters—particularly the stream of doctors—are abysmal. The Ventolas' friends are played by familiar and competent actors, but the characters are unmemorable.
The fullscreen presentation shows its age, with a very soft, hazy picture and some grain, and the Dolby Digital 2.0 is a barely noticeable stereo separation with slightly muffled sound. This is a bare bones DVD presentation with no extras, which is understandable for such a low-profile release. It would have been nice to have some educational material on advances in AIDS treatment today, or a feature on the real life people who inspired the story—Roxy Ventola is credited as a producer.
Criticizing this well-meaning film feels like kicking a puppy—a sick puppy—but it's not a particularly entertaining hour and a half, when what should be a heart wrenching story is undermined by a script that treats its protagonists as saints instead of people. Unfortunately And Then There Was One is too dated and simplistic to bring anything meaningful to the AIDS on film canon, and it doesn't manage to be a compelling drama outside of the real-life tragedy of the disease itself.
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