Claiming to be inspired by a true tale, “The Yarn Princess” is a heart-tugger giving Jean Smart and Robert Pastorelli an opportunity to flex some acting muscles their sitcom fans might not realize exist. Dalene Young’s smart script takes a story that might have been given any of several different spins and makes a compelling case for keeping kids in an underprivileged household rather than handing them over to even well-intentioned foster parents.
Smart and Pastorelli star as Margaret and Jake Thomas, trying their best to raise six sons under economic hardship and despite her being (in the character’s words) “a borderline slow person.” Moments into the pic, Jake develops a severe case of schizophrenia — his adverse reaction to medication — rendering him unable to continue working in a machine shop.
When Margaret applies for welfare, a social agency (personified by Lee Garlington as an unsympathetic supervisor) decides that she’s unable to raise her children properly. A sympathetic social worker (Giuliana Santini) tries to help, but several of the kids run undisciplined.
Two are placed in foster care of a middle-class couple (Steven Banks, Nancy McLoughlin) before a crusading attorney (Dennis Boutsikaris) intervenes and takes Margaret’s case to a higher court, where all is resolved in her favor. Even Jake seems to be getting better.
Equally valid alternate scenarios might have detailed plight of well-meaning foster parents forced to cope with unruly teenagers; or of plucky chief social worker’s struggle to place underprivileged children in a home with chances for an emotionally and financially improved life, as a meddling American Civil Liberties Union fights to keep them with physically disadvantaged and mentally ill parents.
Acting is solid throughout under Tom McLoughlin’s assured direction; only Garlington’s character is a stereotype.
Shirley Knight appears briefly as Margaret’s mother, and Donal Logue impresses as Margaret’s first lawyer, a wet-behind-the-ears public defender.