The efforts of the actors, writers and director to maintain the essence of Joyce Carol Oates's original novel in Lifetime's version of We Were the Mulvaneys
, were, for the most part, successful, but the result is similar to the difference between cologne and fine perfume.The characters are all there: the parents, Mike and Corrine Mulvaney (Beau Bridges and Blythe Danner) and their four children. But the constraints of the TV movie form means that to retain as many life episodes from the novel as possible, the tale rushes by like a speeding train. One wonders if viewers who have not read the novel will find themselves emotionally attached to any of the TV version.
For one thing, it's difficult to empathize with key characters, who are complex in their responses to the crime at the core of this story. There are no easy answers in the book, but the summarization in the film leaves one with even even fewer clues.
This is the story of the Mulvaneys of the appropriately-named High Point Farm in upstate New York. Father Mike has driven the family into upper-middle class through hard work and sheer determination.
They are the epitome of the American dream, a seemingly rock-solid family. But when the darling of the family, their only girl, Marianne, is date-raped by offspring of one of the community's more privileged class, the Mulvaneys, singularly and collectively, find where they really stand.
Marianne is ousted from the loving nest of her family by a father who can't cope with the impact on his self-image. This heinous act is enabled by a matriarch who previously seemed the type who would fight to the death for her brood. The rest of the children, excluded from the decision-making and insecure about every social rule on which they have relied without question, spiral off into their own versions of hell.
Director Peter Werner has reason to stick close to Oates' roadmap. He won an Oscar for a short film based on her In the Region of Ice.
The result is a film very faithful to the "wheres," leaving very little time for the "whys."
Bridges and Danner are fine as the histrionic Mike and the stoic Corrine. But it may be Tammy Blanchard, as Marianne, who gets the shortest shrift. The novel follows the long path of her healing and unfaltering faith in redemption in her father's eyes, but the telefilm reduces her to puppy-like devotion.
We Were the Mulvaneys
debuts on Lifetime on April 8.