Lifetime, which dishonored itself recently with its first miniseries (“Lie Down With Lions”), regains some respectability with “A Part of the Family.” Written and directed by David Madden, the dark domestic drama about a dysfunctional Midwestern family starts routinely enough but builds into a mordant tale that appears to be the stuff of a good stage play even more than a telepic.
For viewers ever caught helplessly in the grip of possessive parents, this little movie should bring back some horrific memories.
A bright young New York physician (Elizabeth Arlen) takes her husband, a jokey/cynical tabloid reporter (Robert Carradine), home to Illinois to meet her parents (Shirley Knight and Ronny Cox). The two are a mom and dad who might have materialized straight out of Edward Albee’s early play “Sandbox.”
Initially warm, gradually the parents betray an insidious plan to keep their unwitting daughter home forever, even if it means breaking up her marriage.
A crucial subplot nicely anticipates the action when the young wife’s wimpy brother (George Newbern) is compelled to choose between living with his folks and his fiancee (the sharply edgy Kristen Cloke).
On the downside, the daughter’s character is impossibly, even irritatingly naive (even given her child abuse problems) and the plot is dangerously pat. But the production succeeds basically for two reasons: Carradine is affably believable as the nice guy who must fiercely fight for his marriage while exposing a side of himself no one suspects he has; and Cox, under his light and sunny demeanor, is deliciously serpentine as the father who belongs in a room with rubber walls.
Director Madden and cinematographer James Glennon wisely choose to shoot the telepic in the bright colors of a cartoon.
As for Knight, she putters around as the weak, obsequious homemaker, a role she easily pulls off but one she’s beginning to play once too often (particularly given her lustrous stage and screen background).