With the baneful movie cliché of the endangered child as its starting
point, The Deep End of the Ocean has nowhere else to go but up. And so
it does, thanks to Ulu Grossbard's restrained direction, Stephen Schiff's
inspired adaptation of the bestseller (hey, he must have thought, I've tackled
Nabokov in Lolita, why not turn Jacquelyn Mitchard into Proust?), but
mostly thanks to Michelle Pfeiffer, who's unnervingly convincing in the role of
Beth, a frowzy, beleaguered housewife.
She's the one to blame when three-year-old son Ben gets lost in a crowded
Chicago hotel lobby, and despite the efforts of a multicultural task force
embodied by Whoopi Goldberg (whose detective character is black, female, gay,
and mercifully absent for most of the movie) he's not found. Years pass and
Beth takes the loss poorly, retreating into pills and 24-hour naps while other
son Vincent (Jonathan Jackson) grows sullen and sports an earring, daughter
Kerry grows cute, and husband Pat (Treat Williams) opens an Italian restaurant.
Then Ben shows up at their door and things get complicated.
For the most part, the film unfolds these complications -- exultation,
disorientation, guilt, sibling rivalry -- with poignant obliqueness. A gesture,
look, or detail does the job handled in most tearjerkers by a harangue, and at
times Deep End approaches the submarine frontiers of memory and
identity. At other times it seems like a bloodless family-counseling session.
"You're just a concept," Vincent accuses Ben, and often it's true. Despite its
genuine emotional power, Deep End never goes in over its head.
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The Deep End of the Ocean
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