In this age of try-anything television, it's difficult to understand why Lifetime chose to cram the Terry McMillan novel "A Day Late and a Dollar Short" into a single made-for-TV movie.
Rich with plot and pathos that address difficult issues, including addiction and sexual abuse, the story could easily have sustained an abbreviated miniseries or two-part "special event."
As a movie, however, it just wastes the considerable talents of its cast by force-feeding the audience a hard-to-swallow meal that is by turns bitter and treacly.
When longtime smoker Viola Price (Whoopi Goldberg) is told her next asthma attack may be her last, she takes a hard look at her contentious and troubled family and decides to do what she can to fix things. Heaven knows, she has her work cut out for her. Her husband Cecil (Ving Rhames) has left her and her son Lewis (Mekhi Phifer) is homeless, out of work and owes back child support. One daughter, Paris (Anika Noni Rose), is a wound-tight single mom with pill issues, while another, Charlotte (Tichina Arnold), is pushing her husband away. Even granddaughter Shanice (Shanice Banton) is riddled with anxiety.
Honestly, if it weren't Goldberg playing her, it would be difficult to sympathize with the woman who raised this bickering, blathering, self-involved crew.
If nothing else, "A Day Late and a Dollar Short" (adapted by Shernold Edwards and directed by Stephen Tolkin) reminds us what a fine and steady screen presence Goldberg is, able to project humor and tragedy, tenderness and dismissal, often in a single glance.
Her Viola is full of regret, and a healthy dose of self-recrimination, but she realizes she has time for neither, which is always a welcome lesson whatever the vehicle. Rose, too, does a lovely job as the wounded, worried mother determined to "make something" of her son. In fact, the whole cast should be commended for their ability to make so much of the material.
But there's too much material and far too little time. Propelled more by voice-over than actual human motivation, Viola careens between her children, leaving none of the characters room to breathe or grow. Similarly, the story line ricochets from one traumatic reveal to the next, making it impossible to care about any. Which is too bad. For all their faults, it might have been nice to spend a little more time with the Price family; certainly Whoopi was gone all too soon.
'A Day Late and a Dollar Short'
When: 8 and 10 p.m. Saturday
Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)