I've seen just about every film directed by Richard Pearce. There's something in his understanding of actors that always brings out the best in them. That's especially evident in films like "Country", "A Family Thing" and "The Long Walk Home". It's hard to walk that thin line between heartfelt personal stories and overwrought melodrama. "Plainsong", however, isn't completely successful in avoiding the latter. The story itself has a lot in common with other Hallmark films, a way of unfolding that is a bit more predictable and/or comfortable than you might see in an average theatrical film. The TV movie feeling is the main, and only real thing holding "Plainsong" back.
I'd noticed America Ferrera before, like I suppose most people have. But the only thing I'd actually seen her in was her first film, "Real Women Have Curves". She's so quiet here that it's almost like she's not there at all sometimes. That's not a bad thing, it reminded me of myself for a good part of my teenage years. She gets across the lost and confused feeling so well. The most fascinating and accomplished performances are those of Geoffrey Lewis and William Andrews as the elderly farmer brothers, and Marian Seldes as the lonely shut-in. They are so real, so believable. Rachel Griffiths and Aidan Quinn, whom many will be familiar with, are actually of much lesser interest than the younger and older actors. Nonetheless, they give very good performances.
In all, "Plainsong" doesn't reach so far as it might. It stays on the outskirts of anything truly intense, but the feeling of gentle reality still bubbles to the surface. I'm truly glad I saw it, and I can't see how anyone couldn't take at least something away from the experience. I recommend that you pursue more of Richard Pearce's films.