Picks and Pans Review: Plainsong

updated 05/03/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/03/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

CBS (Sun., April 25, 9 p.m. ET)

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There's nothing fancy about Plainsong. Nothing too exciting, either. But if you're willing to settle for a fairly affecting small-town tale, try this Hallmark Hall of Fame adaptation of Kent Haruf's 1999 bestseller.

The film follows several story lines at an ambling pace. Tom Guthrie (Aidan Quinn), a high school teacher in Colorado, takes care of sons Ike (Mick Hazen) and Bobby (Cody Arens), while his depressed wife, Ella (Megan Follows), drifts away from the family. Adding to Tom's woes is insolent Russell Beckman (Zachery Bryan), a troublemaking student with obnoxiously supportive parents. Meanwhile, pregnant teen Victoria Roubideaux (America Ferrera) is deserted by her boyfriend and thrown out by her nasty mother. Victoria seeks help from teacher Maggie Jonas (Rachel Griffiths from Six Feet Under), who arranges for the girl to live with the McPheron brothers (Geoffrey Lewis and William Andrews), a pair of bachelor ranchers up in years and set in their ways. It's a most unlikely situation, but one that yields a few poignant and gently comic moments.

In the novel, Tom and Maggie eye each other occasionally before graduating to the bedroom. Onscreen their relationship is all talk with a hint of something more. Maggie asks Tom if he wants his wife to come back. "I can't say," he replies. Come on, fella, at least give her a "maybe not." You want to reach out and push the two teachers together, but this film isn't comfortable with big scenes. Even a late brawl involving Tom and the Beckmans ends in an embarrassing draw.

The most memorable character here is Iva Stearns (Marian Seldes), a salty old shut-in who befriends the Guthrie boys. She's definitely plainspoken.


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