An earnest sensibility and a simplistic Freudian psychology drag down the talented ensemble of “Soulmates,” an emotional drama about the relationship between an old black paraplegic and a young white musician, to the level of a routine inspirational teleplay. Duane Clark’s third feature may warrant limited theatrical release, but in scale and ambition it perfectly fits the small screen.
As the story begins, Dean Carter (Zachary Throne), a handsome composer, loses his fiancee and a breakthrough job scoring a big Hollywood movie for a director who happens to be his father (C.J. Bau). Despondent, and in alcohol-fueled depression, Dean turns his back on his lifelong passion and gets a job as a night attendant at a nursing home run by Anna Weisland (Christine Cavanaugh), a hardened, world-weary nurse carrying her own bag of problems.
Short on cash, Dean accepts Anna’s generous invitation to stay at her house, and a tentative friendship evolves. On the job, Dean meets an angry patient, Mr. Williams (Bill Cobbs), a veteran soul musician who’s despairing over an impending operation that will leave him paraplegic. At first, Mr. Williams stubbornly refuses to socialize with Dean, but all too predictably he warms up to him, even sharing his frustration over being alienated from his beautiful daughter, Jennifer (Debra Wilson), who’s about to marry a man he never approved of.
What ensues is a conventional drama about three strangers, each painfully facing past failures and present problems, who eventually bond and form “a family.” In one maudlin scene after another, writer-director Clark neatly resolves all conflicts and tensions. Hence Dean is forced by Anna and Mr. Williams to overcome his demons and confront his music. Anna is so touched by Dean’s music that she’s reduced to tears, and when she plays his compositions in the rec room, the listless patients are so energized by it that they burst into spontaneous clapping and dancing.
It doesn’t occur to screenwriter Clark that perhaps Dean could overcome his antagonistic father by showing his compositions to other directors (or agents) in Hollywood. Rather than being crushed by his dad’s verdict, it makes more sense that Dean would go out of his way to prove his talent.
Clark has not gained any subtlety since his feature debut, “Shaking the Tree,” which was just as literal and sentimental, but he shows improvement in his technical skills: “Soulmates” is well shot by M. David Mullen and proficiently edited by the helmer and his sister, producer Cindy Clark.
Above all, pic benefits from a quartet of terrific actors, who somehow manage to rise above the familiar proceedings. All four thesps hit their notes, though Cobbs, as the repentant father, and Wilson, as his estranged daughter, are particularly impressive. Endowed with a beautiful face, solid voice and elegant presence, Wilson should have no problems joining the forefront of leading ladies in the very near future.