If These Walls Could Talk

PART 1: 1952

PART 1: 1952

Directed, written by Nancy Savoca, based on a story by Pamela Wallace, Earl Wallace, Savoca. Camera (color), Ellen Kuras.

Claire Demi Moore

Becky Catherine Keener

Kevin Jason London

Mary Shirley Knight

Dr. Kramer Kevin Cooney

Jenny CCH Pounder

With: Robin Gammell, Phyllis Lyons, Aaron Lusting, Dena Burton.

PART 2: 1974

Directed by Nancy Savoca. Screenplay, Susan Manus, Savoca. Camera (color), Bobby Bukowski.

Barbara Sissy Spacek

John Xander Berkeley

Julia Joanna Gleason

With: Hedy Burress, Janna Michaels, Ian Bohen, Zack Eginton, Harris Yulin.

PART 3: 1996

Directed by Cher. Screenplay, I. Marlene King, Savoca, based on King’s story. Camera (color), John Stanier.

Christine Anne Heche

Patti Jada Pinkett

Dr. Beth Thompson Cher

Marcia Diana Scarwid

Frances Lindsay Crouse

With: Lorraine Toussaint, Rita Wilson, Eileen Brennan, Craig T. Nelson.

There’s little art and not much entertainment in HBO’s earnestly didactic “If These Walls Could Talk,” a trilogy about three American women and their different ways of dealing with unexpected pregnancies. Spanning four decades, from the 1950s to the present, this high-profile HBO teleplay, produced by Demi Moore’s company and directed by Nancy Savoca and Cher (in her filmmaking debut), should be embraced by female viewers, though its message is so broad that it’s unlikely to stir any controversy. HBO will air the movie throughout October, and timely issue and recognizable cast should guarantee satisfactory results for the later video version.

In the first and weakest segment, which is set in l952, Moore plays Claire, a young, recently widowed nurse who suddenly realizes she’s pregnant. Through flashbacks, it’s revealed that the baby’s father is no other than her brother-in-law, who, during a latenight visit to console her, apparently lost control.

Most of the characters in this tale, male and female, don’t so much converse as mouth slogans. Hence, when Claire seeks help from a doctor at her hospital (Kevin Cooney), she’s harshly rebuffed because abortion is illegal. The pregnancy is considered her fault and thus her problem.

Set in l974, the second and most interesting episode centers on Barbara (Sissy Spacek), a happily married mother of four who’s decided to return to college to get her degree. Her efforts to balance an academic schedule with family life are shattered when she finds out her pregnancy test is positive.

The appealing protagonist of the final story, set in the present, is Christine (Anne Heche), who’s having an illicit affair with her married architecture professor (Craig T. Nelson). When she gets pregnant by him, he gives her the money for an abortion, but her roommate Patti (Jada Pinkett), who’s morally opposed to the very idea of abortion, tries to discourage her. The bloody (in more senses than one) climax takes place at a family planning clinic run by a trio of sympathetic women, the mature Dr. Beth Thompson (Cher), bright clinic escort Frances (Lindsay Crouse) and sensitive counselor Marcia (Diana Scarwid).

Beginning with the bombastic, unsubtle title, everything in the anthology is too schematic and pedagogic, more befitting a lecture than a telepic. Moore and co-producer Suzanne Todd should be commended for choosing a problematic, socially relevant issue, but its treatment here is disappointing, particularly the insistent moralizing. Ultimately, these stories are more about women’s freedom of choice than about abortion per se but who in 1996 will disagree with the stories’ premise that women need to exercise greater control over their lives?

Not surprisingly, two of the stories end tragically, and the final, contempo segment is the most violent, which may be an accurate reflection of the zeitgeist.

All three episodes are more sensitively staged than scripted, and Cher shows promise as a good director of actors. The cast is terrific, and the opportunity to watch two dozen of the most interesting actresses in American cinema is rewarding in its own right.

Tech credits in most departments, particularly lensing (by Ellen Kuras, Bobby Bukowski and John Stanier, respectively) are serviceable, though Cliff Eidelman’s insistent score is used too simplistically to create the “right” emotional reactions.

If These Walls Could Talk

Production: An HBO NYC presentation of a Moving Pictures production. Executive producers, Demi Moore, Suzanne Todd. Based on materials by Stuart Kaplan.

Crew: Music, Cliff Eidelman; production design, Hilda Stark Manos; costume design, Jacqueline Arthur; line producer, Laura Greenlee; casting, Mindy Marin, John Papsidera. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival, Sept. 13, 1996. Running time: 90 MIN.

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