"Face of a Stranger" (CBS Sunday night at 9) introduces us to two seemingly vastly different women and then deftly proceeds to persuade us that they could in fact become friends.
Adapted by Marsha Norman from a New York magazine article by Mary Stuart, and directed with grace and insight by Claudia Weill, this is a superior TV movie that affords splendid roles for two formidable actresses, Gena Rowlands and Tyne Daly.
Rowlands is a beautiful, stylish Seattle matron who lives with her husband (Kevin Tighe) in a stately apartment house near the harbor. From an improvised shelter in a building across the street, a feisty but also emotionally disturbed homeless woman (Tyne Daly) observes Rowlands coming and going from her expensive residence. When Daly one day shouts to Rowlands, "You're somebody else, I'm somebody else too," she's hit upon a home truth.
Tighe and especially their grown daughter (Cynthia Nixon), both of whom are unapologetically self-absorbed, ambitious upper middle-class types, are ever so slightly patronizing of Rowlands, who often feels left out of their lives. Rowlands studied costume design in school but dutifully gave up all hopes of a career to devote herself to marriage and motherhood. She goes through the motions of a conventional, conservative life style, but her heart and her mind are not entirely in it.
Even so, if a drastic wrench hadn't unexpectedly shaken up Rowlands' comfortable existence, it's questionable that she would develop a full-fledged concern for Daly, whose bravado hides a tragic secret as to why she wound up in the streets.
What's so impressive, along with the luminous portrayals of Rowlands and Daly, is that "Face of a Stranger" never defies credibility--e.g., helping Daly is but part of an entire new agenda for Rowlands--and never lapses into sentimentality.
The stars are staunchly supported by Tighe, Harris Yulin, Nixon and Seymour Cassel.