Elizabeth McGovern appealingly toplines “Clover” as a widow struggling to connect with her black husband’s young daughter. Sweet, if unexceptional, drama tackles issues of race, family and grieving with a generally light hand and refreshing touches of humor. Despite overall predictability of storyline, telepic delivers some touching moments.
At the opening wedding scene, bride Sara Kate (McGovern) is the only white person, and Gaten (Ernie Hudson), her former college sweetheart and a recent widower, acknowledges in his vows the opposition to the marriage by some members of his family. Chief among these is sister-in-law Everleen (Loretta Devine), whose main complaint against Sara Kate is the color of her skin.
But these issues are pushed aside when Gaten is killed in an auto accident immediately following the nuptials. Wedding finery gives way to mourning clothes in the next family get-together at his sprawling Victorian home.
Spirited young Clover (Zelda Harris), rightly insisting that she has “too many mothers” among her extended Southern family, resists Sara Kate’s overtures as they each, separately, commune with the late Gaten. There’s some emotional support for the widow from her brothers-in-law (Ron Canada, Ntare Mwine) and the matriarchal Aunt Katie (Beatrice Winde), but Everleen remains a thorn in her side.
Story follows a foreseeable course as Northerner Sara Kate tries to become involved in the family’s peach-orchard business, teaches herself to cook the grits Clover demands, and receives the attentions of an unmarried neighbor. This last thread, however, takes an interesting twist when the courting Chase (John Dossett) reveals that he’s less than enlightened.
Ultimately, as expected, Clover’s deceptions and retreat draw together the stubborn Everleen and earnest Sara Kate. Along the way, heartfelt highlights include Sara Kate’s confession to Clover of a deep loss she’s suffered, and poignant exchanges with the deceased Gaten, who wanders the house and its sunny grounds as a concerned observer. Story’s strongest impact is its portrayal of the way the deceased often take on a stronger presence than they did in life, and of the various ways in which the bereaved arrive at the point of letting go.
Though not overly imaginative, director Jud Taylor’s evenhanded approach works here, allowing the talented cast to bring out subtleties in the not-always-subtle script. As the tough-but-hurting title character and her interfering aunt Everleen, Harris and Devine are standouts.
Lawrence Shragge’s lovely score is in keeping with the overall quiet tone of pic, and d.p. David Connell does a fine job of capturing the summer light of the Southern setting.