Sunday, March 8, 2009

Twelve Mile Road (CBS, 2003)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I watched a Lifetime showing of a TV-movie that was apparently originally aired on CBS in 2003: Twelve Mile Road, a production featuring Tom Selleck in a piece that Charles joked could have been called Magnum, Farmer. At the beginning of the show Seattle attorney Angela Landis (Wendy Crewson, an actress I quite like whose presence in this film was one of the reasons I wanted to see it) has had it with her rebellious teen daughter Dulcie (Maggie Grace). The last straw is when Angela catches Dulcie getting a great deal of her body tattooed (though no trace of tattooing is seen on Maggie Grace’s body throughout the rest of the film); she yanks her out of the tattoo parlor and announces that she’s shipping her off for the summer to her dad, Stephen Landis (Tom Selleck, top-billed).

A decade earlier Stephen and Angela did the Green Acres number; they bought a farm in Idaho, intending to stay there a few years and then return to city life — only he loved the great outdoors so much that he chose to stay there, while she hated it so much that she bailed on the marriage, moved back to Seattle, got her law degree and settled into private practice, attempting to raise Dulcie as a single parent and concentrate on her career. Unbeknownst to Angela, Stephen has just met a new girlfriend, Leah (Anna Gunn), and she’s just moved into the farmhouse and brought her own daughter Roxanne (Tegan Moss) with her. The moment Dulcie shows up at the farmhouse and hates it so viscerally that she lashes out by feeding antifreeze to one of her dad’s cows (it was interesting that Lifetime ran this right after For the Love of a Child, which also contained a scene in which a troubled child took out his/her own outrage on a cow), we just know that scenarist Richard Friedenberg (adapting a novel by Robert Boswell) is going to have her eventually fall in love with the place and want to stay there.

The first 40 minutes of this one are pretty predictable, but then Friedenberg takes his story into some interesting paths-less-traveled; there are two kind-of hunky teen boys in the local evangelical church group and the girls take the proverbial interest in them — while Dulcie asks if there’s any dancing in the church youth group and is told they frown on dancing because it’s “the first step to fornication” — only it’s Roxanne and her born-again boyfriend Will Coffey (Patrick Fleuger) who take the last step to fornication (yet another failure of abstinence-only education!) and, this being a movie and therefore subject to the rule of infallible pregnancies at single contacts, she ends up “with child.” Leah announces that she’s shipping her 16-year-old daughter back to Seattle for an abortion, and Roxanne announces that she’s a born-again Christian (“You can’t be! You’re half-Jewish!” her mom moans) and is going to marry Will and remain in the farm community. (She inconveniently reminds her mom that mom was 17 when she was born.)

The child has a rare genetic ailment and only survives a few days, but in the meantime Leah has bailed on farm life and told Stephen that she regrets that she ever met him — and Dulcie departs the Idaho farm community on schedule but turns out to be listless and uninvolved in her old life. With the same kind of desperation Ronald Colman showed to get back to Shangri-La at the end of Lost Horizon, Dulcie steals her mom’s credit card, buys herself a plane ticket to Idaho, hitchhikes from the airport to daddy’s farm and announces her intention to stay there — and when her mom shows up to retrieve them, mom and dad (who’ve been divorced for a decade, remember) end up in bed together. With mom’s career preventing a full-on reconciliation, she agrees to let Dulcie move back in with her dad and, in the final scene, Dulcie and her dad keep a dying cow alive long enough to give birth to a calf (the credits even list Lee Romaire for “special makeup effects: calf birthing sequence, calf puppet”).

Though it’s occasionally pretty soapy and also sometimes pretty silly, Twelve Mile Road is actually a fairly moving meditation on the whole idea of “family” and how people hold together (or don’t) and how “love” plays out in the real world — though when the film showed Will and Roxanne getting married and their on-screen minister (Hamish Boyd) talked about the importance of family, with the raw wounds of the Proposition 8 hearings still open I couldn’t help but remember that these are the same people who don’t believe I and my husband deserve these joys — and I also couldn’t help but ponder the irony that these evangelicals celebrated their wedding with the music from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Mendelssohn, a Jew whose family had converted to Lutheranism.