The lack of a consistent tone dims the potential power of Due East, a teen pregnancy drama that marks the directorial debut of actress Helen Shaver.
The Showtime film, based on a book by Valerie Sayers, bounces between plot lines, never giving any of them their due, so to speak.
Clara Bryant stars as the placid Mary Faith Rapple, a devoted student who's never recovered from the death of her mother five years prior. She falls for Michael (Jesse Moss), another loner and a new arrival in Due East. After a single tryst, Michael becomes victim to a syndrome often seen in teen slasher movies — have sex and die.
Mary Faith discovers she's pregnant, and finally confesses that to dad Jesse (Robert Forster). But for reasons of her own, she doesn't identify the father. Jesse assumes it's the son of a family friend, Nell Dugan (Cybill Shepherd). He confronts her — and instead ends up in a romance.
Relatives learn of the pregnancy and pressure Mary Faith to go out of town for an abortion to avoid familial embarassment. An ally arises in the form of the mother of a girl who Mary Faith tutors. Becky Purdue (Kate Capshaw) has fallen apart because of her husband's affair with his 28-year-old secretary, yet is somehow inspired by Mary Faith's smarts and courage.
Got all that? It's a lot to explore, and you're never quite sure what the movie is trying to say. Is it a message picture? A romantic comedy? Or just an excuse for the players to use half-baked Southern drawls?
The talent involved never quite jells, either. Forster doesn't seem settled into the skin of a grieving stoic and he doesn't send off real sparks with Shepherd, either. Capshaw is the best fit of this oddly cast bunch.
Bryant's character is flat and lacks the kind of charisma that would generate the kind of community support depicted at the film's end. Because she's nervous about delivering a valedictory speech while hugely pregnant, the other senior girls follow the lead of this supposed loner and wear pregnancy padding under their gowns. When her water breaks at graduation, the crowd stands up and cheers. Preposterous!
There's also no indication of the community reaction when, after all that pressure to make a decision, Bryant decides to leave the baby with Michael's parents and go off to college.
debuts on Showtime May 12 at 8 p.m. (Note: This drama, billed as an "original picture for all ages," is followed immediately by the R-rated Queer as Folk.)