Molly

Friday October 22, 1999

     "Molly" seems like a TV movie masquerading as a big-screen feature; its saving grace is that it offers Elisabeth Shue a splendid part in the title role. At 28, Molly, who is autistic but highly functional, has lived in an institution since the death of her parents 15 years before. She has been well cared for and formed a bond with one of the staffers, Sam (Thomas Jane).
     Molly suffers from a severe learning disorder, but a cutoff in government spending is thrusting her into the outside world. She is to live, at least temporarily, with her older brother Buck (Aaron Eckhart), who's about to lose his job at a hotshot ad agency.
     Only 17 himself when he lost his parents, Buck has had little contact with Molly over the years between Christmas visits. Now he's thrust with the responsibility of a woman with a laundry list of special needs. Buck is a nice guy who tries hard but is relieved when Molly qualifies for an outstanding facility where Sam conveniently now works. What's more, Molly proves to be an excellent candidate for experimental brain surgery that may well render her fully functional in society.
     Under the direction of Australia's John Duigan, always a skilled director of actors, Shue is radiant as Molly, at last blossoming, able finally to tap into her full potential as a woman, her erratic, fearful behavior gradually fading away and growing calmer and more assured with each passing day.
     Writer Dick Christie deftly manages some worthy consciousness-raising in telling Molly's story. He shows that Buck never realized the level of awareness Molly possessed even when trapped in her autistic state, with its vulnerability to fear and need for rigid order and routine. As Sam points out to Buck, Molly was a person, one he has always cared for deeply even before the seemingly miraculous surgery.
     As Molly emerges from her autistic state, she discovers how "normal" people learn to dissemble their true emotions to the extent that they can unknowingly cut themselves off from themselves and, beyond that, from all that is beautiful and sustaining. Christie's attempts at comic relief, however, are hit and miss--some of them amusing, others overly contrived.
     "Molly" is a bit too obvious as a message movie for current big-screen tastes, and may well find its most responsive audience when it hits the tube. But it is moving and has been well-crafted with much care, and it allows Shue, Eckhart, Jane and Jill Hennessy as Molly's doctor to make solid impressions.


Molly, 1999. PG-13, for sex-related material and nudity. An MGM Pictures presentation of a Cockamamie/Absolute Entertainment production. Director John Duigan. Producer William J. Macdonald. Executive producer Amy Heckerling. Screenplay by Dick Christie. Cinematographer Gabriel Beristain. Editor Humphrey Dixon. Music Trevor Jones. Production designer Sharon Seymour. Art director Bruce Alan Miller. Set decorator Maggie Martin. Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes. Taye Diggs as Harper. Nia Long as Jordan. Morris Chestnut as Lance. Harold Perrineau as Murch. Terrence Howard as Quentin. Elisabeth Shue as Molly McKay. Aaron Eckhart as Buck. Jill Hennessy as Dr. Susan Brookes. Thomas Jane as Sam.

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