At first impression, The Deep End of the Ocean can be a story of a mother's courage and all that, and it looks that there's no other way the movie can be but go sappy and mushy. Moreover, it will give anyone who has a rather not-too-good relationship with their mothers a gnawing amount of guilt. But screenwriter Schiff's take on the Mitchard bestseller and director Grosbard's restraint steers the movie away from the hackneyed themes substantially, though not totally. SPOILER ALERT The movie opens with mother Beth Cappadora (Michelle Pfiffer) going to Chicago for her high school reunion with her two children, Ben and Vincent. Ben gets lost in the hotel's crowded lobby. Even with the help of police and detective Candy Bliss (Whoopi Goldberg), Beth and her husband Pat (Treat Williams) are not able to find Ben. While everything around her starts to get on with life, Beth languishes in guilt, anger and grief. She retreats into days of sleep and pills. Her social contacts remain confined with her husband and relatives though most ends in anger and resentment. In the process, she misses much of other things, and one casualty is Vincent (Jonathan Jackson) who becomes a teenager harboring resent ment against her. As life is beginning to go on--Pat opens an Italian restaurant, the youngest child Kerry is growing and they move to Chicago--Beth suddenly meets Ben (Ryan Merriman) after nine years. He has been raised by an adoptive father George (John Kapelos), goes by the name and has no memory of his real family. Here starts the crux of the film, revealing to us the pain and complications of Ben's integration. Different emotions beef up this part of the film: joy, disorientation, sibling rivalry, anger, etc. Here the film widens its emotional focus to include Vincent who develops his own take on the situation. Ben, on the other hand, doesn't do well with the Cappadoras, missing his adoptive father and running away at nights to sleep on his own bed. Eventually, Beth comes to realize that they are really giving the boy pain rather than being his shelter. She decides to give him back to George. But eventually Ben comes back and makes a reconciliation with Vincent Though, the film effectively plumbs the appropriate pathos and the meaning of family, it however decides on a snappy resolution effected more by a story's need for conclusion than a desire to depict life's process, which takes a rather long and quirky closure. Overall, Deep End's emotional dose is superbly measured, thus coming out effectively poignant, but not totally convincing. Let's tackle its poignant power. Besides the movie's innate tearjerking quality, Grosbard's manipulations do not fall into the sentimental pits, even though the movie is very similar to a better-quality television movie or special. The direction is what you call sober, that is serious in its intention in spaying out lives torn apart by emotionally turbulent events and not in desperately tugging the audience's emotional chord, playing with their feelings and excruciatingly coaxing tears. His style remains devoid of florid qualities, thus not impressing the audience with startling visuals, momentous scenes and high-grade effects. Thus, nothing is impressed into the viewer's mind visually, but it serves effectively the film's purpose of straightforward telling. Schiff, who was a film critic in Vanity Fair before turning to writing screenplays, adapted his screenplay from Mitchard's novel of the same title. He tries to portray and beef up as many characters in the movie as possible from the father to the delinquent son, which is okay, only these showings of characters and their interests and backgrounds do not do a lot for the film's focus and do not really contribute with the film's organic unity. At best, they are mere appendages. With these efforts, however, he fails to show the adoptive father's side adequately and to think, he strikes me as a most sympathetic character besides Beth Cappadora, the mother and the kidnapped son. Thus, we have this feeling of fullness after watching the film although he sense that there's something lacking we cannot put our finger into. Most probably it is, and it maybe very well is, the film's failure to completely convince. There are certain details left along the trail that is undisclosed and it can be tedious to enumerate. But we tend not to notice because they do not rankle, but still they left marks. And then caps that trail with a end dead. Because the movie must stop at one point, and Deep End does it and rather too neatly as to be abrupt and hurried, thus the unconvincing nature
As for the actors, Pfeiffer emanates with acting brilliance, drawing us to a pain of a loss. After a couple of mother roles before this and she can very well carry on other roles that this, she is effective enough. Matching her is Jonathan Jackson who plays the delinquent son and the brother of the kidnapped-and then-found boy. He radiates with silent power in his character. Noticeable also is Goldberg, not because she steals the limelight, but because of her sparing appearance. The filmmakers likely know of her capacity to overwhelm and keep her at bay. Deep End is drama that can be a powerful drama, which is effectively played up but not to the extent brilliance.