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TV REVIEW : HARD TO SIT LONG FOR ‘STONE PILLOW’

Times Television Critic

You have to love Lucy a lot to sit through “Stone Pillow.” And even that may not be enough.

Known primarily for slapstick comedy, Lucille Ball has a starring dramatic role as Flora the New York bag lady in this slow, predictable and sloshy CBS melodrama at 9 tonight on Channels 2 and 8.

She looks like a bag lady, wrapped in rags and impersonating an unmade bed while shuffling through Lower Manhattan, pushing her cart of eclectic belongings, living off handouts and trash cans and sleeping on the street and in doorways. Just dig that gray stringy hair.

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For all most of us know, she may act like a bag lady too.

“Stone Pillow” is lots of character and little plot, though. What would have been a nice supporting figure in a larger story becomes the single focus of a plodding two-hour movie that is a vehicle for Ball and nearly a one-woman show. She has some nice moments, but they aren’t sustained. The test: Would you watch this if Lucille Ball’s name were not attached to it? Probably not.

“Stone Pillow” was filmed in New York, presumably for credibility. But that, at times, is exactly what it lacks. Pulling her thin coat tightly around her, Flora is supposed to be barely surviving the winter cold. Yet you can’t see her breath in the air.

She is befriended by Carrie, a naive junior social worker played by Daphne Zuniga. As soon as Carrie is told by her boss at a shelter that she doesn’t understand street people, you can just bet that she will getting her Ph.D. in the subject from Flora. That includes learning how and where bag ladies “go-bathroom,” as Flora puts it. Listen, this is in-depth.

Written by Rose Leiman Goldemberg and indulgently directed by George Schaefer, “Stone Pillow” exchanges one stereotype for another. The cliche of street people being faceless and anonymous is supplanted by one depicting them as having hearts of gold and, you know, there but for the grace of God. . . .

Even worse, “Stone Pillow” is distractingly oozy, maudlin and manipulative, offering no fundamental reasons for why street people exist, only hand-wringing. The story is juiced by an omnipresent musical score that doesn’t merely tug at your heartstrings, it yanks them with steel tongs.

Brother, can you spare a Tums?


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