Claudia Weill helms a moving, rage-provoking vidpic based on the true story of Jerry Sherwood. Beverly D’Angelo is in top form as Sherwood in a script by Stephanie Liss and Judith Parker, who have not missed one emotional comma.
After 17-year-old Jerry gives birth while in detention, she is persuaded to give the boy up for adoption, but is told he can unseal his adoption records when he’s 18.
She and boyfriend Dennis (Michael McGrady) marry when she’s released and have three more children; though her work as a stripper takes her out of the home at nights, Jerry excels as a mom.
On the other hand, Lois Jurgens (Dana Ivey), the adoptive mother of Jerry’s boy, cannot deal well with her child’s needs and demands.
Lois, highly religious and well-to-do, beats the 3-year-old repeatedly, trying to make him conform to her idea of perfection, as another adopted son, Robert, nearly the same age, gets to witness.
Lois’ husband (Max Gail) turns up music so he doesn’t have to listen to the thuds and screams.
Years later, Jerry, twice divorced and now a real estate broker, feels empty when her son, who should be 19 by that time, has not contacted her. Searching him out, she discovers he died at 3 1/2, though the death certificate does not show what killed him.
Everywhere she turns, either officials are uninterested in a 16-year-old case or someone is hiding something. She enlists the help of a journalist (Will Patton) and further investigation and a trial reveal the awful truth.
The film makes the point that child abuse was rarely talked about or investigated not so long ago, and the viewer may feel outraged at what happens to some children, and Jerry’s boy in particular.
Director Weill and the scripters lend shadings of gray to many of the characters. D’Angelo crisply portrays Jerry from free-spirited adolescence to self-assured middle-age with dimensional reality. Her obsession makes perfect emotional sense.
McGrady shows Dennis as well-meaning, troubled and confused beneath a macho exterior. A minor subplot about his relationship with his son (Mackenzie Astin) adds an extra color to the story.
Ivey’s Lois Jurgens is a woman so proud and righteous, her sense of morality has become twisted.
Thomas Burstyn’s photography is not unique or lavish, but efficient.