Like "Ordinary People," this film deals with the problems faced by a seemingly perfect family when that illusion is shattered. This film, however, adopts a more straightforward, and less lyrical approach. The result is a film which is less powerful, but still memorable.
Unlike "Ordinary People," this film deals with two families. The Brogans are the seemingly ideal family. Headed by David (Len Cariou), a successful doctor, and Tina (Ellen Burstyn), a stay-at-home mom who teaches piano in her spare time, they have three seemingly happy, healthy children, the eldest of whom, Rick (Zach Galligan), is about to enter his senior year in high school. David is pushing Rick to follow in his footsteps, as well as doing a lot of preaching about honor. For his part, Rick takes all of this good naturedly to start with. Among the Brogans' best friends are Harvey (Paul Sorvino) and Lois (Marsha Mason), who apparently never got last names in this film - at least I don't remember what they were - and they're not listed here, who run a successful T-shirt company. They have one child, a troubled girl named Lonnie (Molly Ringwald), who has just been released from a mental institution after attempting suicide.
The story is told in two parts. The first part deals with the events that lead Rick and Lonnie to commit suicide - Rick's discovery of his father's hypocrisy, and withdrawal from everyone but Lonnie, who is ill equipped to provide him with the support he needs since she is having trouble readapting to life outside the institution. The second part deals with the aftermath of the double suicide - the attempts of the survivors to cope with the tragedy and their overwhelming grief in the face of it, and the subsequent tragedies that come out of the main one.
While the writing occasionally veers into the melodramatic, for the most part it is straightforward, letting the events, actions, and reactions speak for themselves.
The acting occasionally goes over the top from the mothers' characters, but for the most part it is pretty solid. Galligan and Ringwald breathe an authenticity into their characters that helps the viewer understand why they feel that their final choice is their only choice. Watch for a young River Phoenix who gives an emotional performance as the surviving younger brother. Len Cariou gives his usual solid performance as David, and while I'm no fan of Paul Sorvino, he gives a competent rendering of Harvey. Ellen Burstyn does a wonderful job as Tina, who shuts down, only to be brought back to functioning through several painful shocks. And Marsha Mason is wonderful as always as a woman whose only way to cope with the tragedy is to find someone who will talk about it with her when her friends and husband will not.
This is a thought provoking film, and one that is well worth watching.