Judge Brett Cullum reviews the story of a family with more issues than Time Magazine.
"Alright everybody…think LOVE!"
Doing Time on Maple Drive was a 1992 television movie that would have been forgotten, had it not been (a) a somewhat positive portrayal of the angst of a gay son, and (b) a before-he-was-huge role for Jim Carrey (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, tons of blockbuster comedies). But do not be misled—it's not really a gay-themed movie, nor does Carrey have more than a supporting role in it. It's a movie about a family falling apart over many issues (emphasis on many), and it's probably the inspiration for countless Lifetime movies that followed it. This over-the-top drama was an early Fox effort to compete with other networks by producing a family movie to rival any melodrama found anywhere else. It's sudsy and soapy in all the right and wrong ways…sort of a lighter version of Ordinary People.
Phil and Lisa Carter strive to have the perfect family. They have three offspring: Tim (Carrey), Matt (William McNamara, Copycat), and Karen (Jayne Brook, Chicago Hope). They try so hard, putting tons of pressure on all the kids to be all that they can be and more. The problem is that each one of them has a secret, and the impending marriage of Matt will spark a series of events that will drag all the dirty truths out of the closet and into the light. Alcoholism, suicidal tendencies, and abortion will all rear their ugly heads before the weekend is over.
You've got to love family. I've always said that blood is thicker than water, plus a whole lot messier, and this movie echoes that sentiment. The parents are clearly the problem here, for all three of their kids, but what about the onus we need to put on an individual to accept the consequences of their own choices? Okay, so Dad (TV movie actor James Sikking, Hill Street Blues) hides pop quizzes in the bathroom every morning that you have to pass or face humiliation. He also browbeats his kids over every aspect of their life, and makes them question their every step. And mom (TV movie actress Bibi Besch, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) seems remote and blind to anyone else's problems. But can we really (and conveniently) lay all the blame on them? Doing Time on Maple Drive believes just that, and ignores anything more complicated. It's all very much the Greek tragedy, except nobody gouges out their eyes or eats their children.
Lori Loughlin (Amityville 3-D, Full House) plays the most likeable character in the whole bunch, Matt's fiancée. Unfortunately, she is dispatched half way through the proceedings. She not only figures out that her nuptials to Matt will not work, but also that being a part of this dysfunctional family would probably mean her demise. Jim Carrey plays the alcoholic older brother, and its a fine early performance from him. The rest of the cast plays it for what it is…a Fox movie of the week. Not to say that they are a bad cast or anything, but it's certainly not anything above the average TV movie acting-wise.
Many people seem to like this tragic farce, and they will be delighted with the transfer of the film. Very good given its television origins, but there is grain scattered throughout. Audio is an underwhelming stereo, but it gets the job done. No extras to be found, other than a trailer that makes Jim Carrey look like the lead. I'm trying to figure out to what kind of person you would give this DVD. It would have to be a personal purchase, but could make a very contentious Father's Day or Mother's Day gift.
There is a well-handled coming out scene to be found near the end of the movie, with a surprising reaction from the parents. That is why many members of the gay community regard this movie so highly. If the story had concentrated on that angle, it might have been more solid; but the script throws in everything and the kitchen sink behind it. It's a little hard to swallow all the drama that gets flung at the Carters in such a short span. They needed one big group hug and a session with Dr. Phil at the close of the movie. Or at least a booking on Jerry Springer.
If you like extreme melodrama, this is a good rental choice for a night when Titanic and The Boy In The Plastic Bubble are checked out. It could be seen as a guilty pleasure along the lines of Love Story, but I found it a little bit grating near the end. My problem was the "happy happy joy joy" ending it seemed to feel it needed to deliver. As if all the wrongs of Doing Time on Maple Drive could be corrected in a single night. Their sentence seemed to be cut short.
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