Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Television Review: DAVID (1988, John Erman)

Stars: 3 of 5.
Running Time: 96 minutes.
Tag-line: "Based on the true story."
Notable Cast or Crew: John Glover, Bernadette Peters.

I almost hesitate to write a review of this, as it's based on a real-life occurrence of one of the most atrocious crimes imaginable (the senseless disfigurement of a child by his lunatic father), and what I find laughable (or effective), could conversely have been comforting (or offensive) to the parties involved. So if this film brought any degree of catharsis or closure to the victims, then that makes me very happy; but, regardless, I shall attempt to divorce myself from the reality of the case and look merely at the film. Now, there are two elements that pervade this work:

#1. John Glover (52 PICK-UP, THE CHOCOLATE WAR) as the psychotic father. Glover is, without exaggeration, one of the greatest actors of all time. Glover oozes pathos, complexity, and sheer presence; there's a certain fragility and an unabashed joie de vivre wrapped together in an eerie package that's punctuated by sadistic violence. Even captured as a still frame, one can still see the tremendous artistry on display:

On some macabre level, he allows you understand the inner workings of this madman, which, in this movie, is almost a BAD thing, because...

#2. Bernadette Peters (HEARTBEEPS, PINK CADILLAC) is the Mom. Peters hangs over this movie like a fetid, old dish towel.

She may have wowed 'em on Broadway, but what she does here has to be seen to be believed. So maybe she can't control the lisp that makes the line about 'goodneth and beauthy' so laughable, but come on! She learns that her son HAS BEEN BURNED ALIVE, and reacts as if she has to reschedule a dental appointment.

Maybe it's the fault of perennial movie-of-the-week writer Stephanie Liss, but this exchange actually happens, and it's way worse than it looks on paper:

Peters: "What's happened to David's ear, it's GONE!"
Doctor: "Ohhh, that happens, it's routine with burn patients. The cartilage is brittle, it falls away."
Peters: "What else can I expect, Dr. Achauer, what other parts of my son are going to routinely fall away?"

Congrats, guys, youve trivialized something truly horrific. (But somehow you know that if John Glover had also played the Mom, he'd have been able to pull off that dialogue.)

Bernadette: thought you were great in THE JERK. Hell, I even enjoyed you as Circe in the TV movie of THE ODYSSEY. But like FEMA's Michael Brown should have, goddammit, have the guts to step forward and say you're not qualified. Three stars- and all of them belong to Glover.

-Sean Gill

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