5 October 1999 | DeeNine-2
Should a woman in a coma give birth?
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon.)
Henry Winkler, who stars as Marty Klein, whose pregnant wife is in a coma, has a limited range as an actor and he does not try to exceed it here. Looking paunchy with a fleshy second chin and a mop of styled hair, the Fonz nonetheless does a creditable job.
This is a pro-choice TV movie. The "absolute strangers" of the title are two intruding pro-life politicos who try to gain control of Klein's wife and/or the fetus to prevent an abortion that might save her life. Both the lifers and the choicers try to use helpless Nancy Klein to further their agendas. Marty Klein fights against that. His only concern is for his wife. He believes that the birth may kill his wife, and he has two historical cases to support his view, cases in which both comatose mothers died giving birth.
The issue is real. The war is real. The spin here is clearly on the side of pro-choice. Strange but I found myself divided. I've always considered abortion not an issue that I want to get involved in; indeed I believe it is not an issue that can be decided "in general." I think every single case is unique and individual. I would only venture an opinion on a specific case that was my responsibility. I abhor the tactics and the self-righteous stupidity of the pro-lifers, but I also think abortion ought to be the instrument of last choice. Here the real question is does the pregnancy and the trauma of birth endanger the woman's life?
Director Gilbert Gates presents the evidence and the legal issues and the politics in a clear and comprehensive manner. Still, what is right is not clear. Perhaps it is only my perception, but the film seemed to suggest that Nancy Klein would never regain consciousness whether she gave birth or not. Perhaps the real issue of the film is who is to make the decision to abort or not, the husband or the state or some third party? That issue was resolved. Whether the right decision on abortion was made will never be known.
Karl Malden, not looking more than a decade or two older than I remember him in A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), is genuine in a supporting role as Nancy Klein's father, and Audra Lindley (Helen Roper from TV's "Three's Company" and "The Ropers") is excellent as the mother. Patty Duke is a little too earnest and listens a little too well to be a real judge, but then maybe not: this was undoubtedly a big case.
Gates is to be commended for presenting the story in a fashion that neither sensationalizes nor euphemizes the gruesome dilemma that Marty Klein faced.
Cassy Friel as the little girl is adorable.