Although she is mainly known these days for portraying Maya Gallo on the hit NBC comedy sitcom JUST SHOOT ME, Laura San Giacomo should be praised for her dramatic performance in the true story of Jenifer Estess, a brilliant woman stricken with Lou Gehrig's disease, otherwise known as ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis).
'JENIFER' opens with shots of Giacomo dancing to the radio in her kitchen as she gets ready for work, making herself coffee and slamming the refrigerator door with her foot as she bolts out the door to make it on time to the theater where she works as a drama producer. These pivotal small moments make the viewer understand how precious these things will become to Jenifer once she is stricken with the disease.
We are introduced to her sisters, Valerie and Meredith, brilliantly portrayed by Jane Kaczmarek and Annabella Sciorra, who show the true bond of 'sisterhood' as they stick with her through the good and the bad times to help her deal with her ailing condition. A few small incidents lead Jenifer to realize that there is something wrong with her. She drops a few things, loses her balance, finds herself commonly out of breath and the lack of energy or strength to use her motor skills. Jenifer was only 35 when she was diagnosed with the disease and Laura San Giacomo brilliantly portrays her life from herein.
Many cameos throughout the tele-movie are portrayed by different television personalities. Marisa Tomei plays one of the actresses in the production Jenifer is involved with at the theater. Scott Wolf plays a would-be blind date who is turned off by Jenifer's condition. Julianna Margulies is the psychiatrist-cum-MD Jenifer visits to try and pinpoint the condition that she has. Camryn Manheim is Jenifer's hard, unsympathetic nurse. Rob Morrow is the Doctor who eventually joins the ALS Foundation to help research stem cell growth.
As Jenifer's disease eventually constricts her body from total movement, the film becomes a fight for her life as the focus turns directly to the research of stem cell growth on mice and the hopes that one day, humans may receive the same treatment.
This tele-movie is an inspirational piece of work dedicated to those who rely on stem cell research, including those suffering from Multiple Sclerosis. The only issue I had with this tele-movie was the 'too-feminine' theme that en-shrouded this production. I could identify the strong 'sisterhood' bond between Jenifer, Valerie and Meredith, but with the sugar-coated grab-your-tissues situations and the sound-track mainly consisting of singers such as Sheryl Crow, k.d. Lang and Aimee Mann, the whole production felt like something that was intended for Lifetime, Television for Women. Lou Gehrig's disease is NOT something that only a woman can be diagnosed with. I felt that this production should have been a bit more broad-minded with the audience that it was trying to reach.
Overall, as a male, I still found this tele-movie to be highly inspirational and I give high honors to Laura San Giacomo for portraying this human being as something that should eventually garner her a long-deserved Emmy Award.
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