Picks and Pans Review: Immediate Family

updated 11/13/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/13/1989 AT 01:00 AM EST

Glenn Close, James Woods, Mary Stuart Masterson

Here are three reasons why this lovely, loving movie is such a joy:

(1) Director Jonathan (The Accused) Kaplan and screenwriter Barbara (The Big Chill) Benedek tell their story, about a childless Seattle couple who adopt a yet-to-be-born baby, without resorting to theatrics or big-deal plot twists. How often do filmmakers show anything like this kind of faith in their own ideas, let alone in their audience?

(2) Kaplan and Benedek often let images speak for them, without dialogue. The film is full of such moments as Woods, at a Seahawks football game, gazing with obvious longing at a father lifting his young son to his shoulder, or Woods and Close exchanging an oh-no sort of glance when they first see the punk rocker father of the baby they're just about to adopt.

(3) While it's usually predictable that Close and Woods, two of the most versatile and affecting of American actors, will turn in terrific performances, this movie contains a major surprise by Masterson (Chances Are), and it's a very happy one. While she has always seemed more than competent, Masterson is subtly touching in her portrayal of an uneducated, ill at ease young woman who travels from Ohio to Seattle to give birth to—and then give away—her first child. The only way anyone is going to stop Masterson from becoming a Big Name Star now is to run her over with a tank.

The rest of the cast performs up to the level of the film's stars. Kevin Dillon (from now on Matt should be known as Kevin's brother, not the other way around) plays Masterson's good-hearted but clearly immature boyfriend. Linda Darlow (a veteran TV actress) is both officious and understanding as the lawyer who arranges the adoption. Jane Greer, who has aged much more gracefully than most Hollywood leading ladies, plays Woods's mother.

They are all in the service of a naturalistic story that includes some quiet drama, a deep sense of romance and not a little comedy. When Dillon takes a bus from Ohio to visit Masterson while she's waiting to give birth, the young couple borrows Close and Woods's car. As they drive off, Woods and Close look at each other for a second, and he says, "All right. Tell me your worst paranoid fantasy.... Is this it: They drive off with the baby and the car, and we never see them again. Maybe they hit a couple of convenience stores on the way and we end up on the Geraldo Rivera show as the most gullible couple in America."

No such lack of luck though. These characters behave like real people, from the barely controlled rage and frustration Close makes evident early in the film as she watches other people's children, knowing she is probably infertile herself, to the confusion Masterson displays when it comes time to actually hand over her new son. The growing affection between Close and Woods on the one hand and Masterson on the other is also movingly framed; it would take a hard-hearted moviegoer indeed to avoid being as captivated with all three of them as they are with each other.

True, this film goes through more than its share of tear-jerking. But it doesn't wheedle or beg for those tears. It creates genuine emotion by engaging its audience's sense of compassion and treating that compassion with the respect it deserves. (PG-13)

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