"Joshua's Heart," airing at 9 tonight on Channels 4, 36 and 39, is unabashed romantic bathos with a slight twist.
This Melissa Gilbert vehicle about a woman who finds it more painful to be separated from her boyfriend's 10-year-old son than from her boyfriend, takes off midway to become the story of a little boy looking for his piece of the Norman Rockwell dream.
Gilbert is Claudia, a commercial artist and struggling children's author. She meets busy architect Tom (Tim Matheson), who moves her into his classy beach home as live-in lover and surrogate mom to Joshua (Matthew Lawrence, an outstanding child actor).
The romance breaks up, but Joshua, lonely and needy, who adored Claudia, calls the local child welfare services and offers himself for adoption, to be with Claudia.
Enter Joshua's mom, a dancer who ran away when he was 5, but who now wants a second chance with her son. Enter too, a psychiatric social worker (Lorinne Vozoff) to investigate whether Josh is being abused or neglected.
From here on, it's Lawrence's film, not Gilbert's, as the plot focuses on Josh's quest for emotional security.
The dialogue can be wince-making--"You're so lovely, bright, shining and lit up from the inside"--and the ending is shamelessly sentimental, but the cast often rises above the soap suds, and Susan Cuscuna's script has several telling moments.