The terrific Tyne Daly throws herself with gusto into the role of the mother-in-law from hell in “A Perfect Mother,” and it’s to the credit of scripter Karen Clark and director Peter Levin — as well as Daly’s enormous talent — that this “based on actual events” thriller doesn’t degenerate into a campy, Greek immigrant version of “Mommie-in-Law Dearest” — although that sounds fairly enjoyable as well.
Pretty music teacher Kathryn (Ione Skye) is spotted at a recital by pushy Eleni Podaras (Daly), who figures she’d make a great daughter-in-law for her son John. Eleni and Kathryn’s mom Gina (Dee Wallace Stone) hook the kids up and it’s love at first sight.
Kathryn and John get married after a whirlwind romance; at their wedding, Eleni gives the young couple their gift from her: a snug house across the street from the Podaras family HQ. To Eleni and the rest of the Podaras clan, family is everything, a tender theme that turns rather deadly as events escalate.
At first, Kathryn doesn’t think it’s odd that her mother-in-law is always around, but then she starts to witness disquieting acts: brother-in-law Dan (David Cubitt) slapping around wife Charlene (Tuesday Knight) under Eleni’s condoning eye; Eleni, no supermodel herself, viciously attacking Charlene about her weight; Charlene being criticized because she hasn’t given Eleni any grandchildren yet.
In fact, Eleni seems to believe that the sole purpose of wives is to pop out grandkids.
When Kathryn has a baby boy, Eleni takes that as an open invitation to practically move in and take over John and Kathryn’s lives. But Kathryn objects, and that is when her nightmare starts.
“Perfect” works because of Daly’s overbearing Eleni, whose actions escalate to unbelievable heights of psychosis, and Daly plays it for all it’s worth. Clark’s script glosses over some big issues, but still delivers a well-woven tale of family terror.
Knight, as battered wife Charlene, is a standout in a very sympathetic role.
Skye, as a woman caught up in a Hitchcockian web of lies, is the weakest link in the telepic: Although her perf is satisfactory, Skye never really gets a handle on the guts of the terrorized young wife. But it doesn’t matter, because this is Daly’s show anyway.
Good use is made of British Columbia locations, subbing as Washington state, and Alexander Cochrane’s production design suitably evokes the neat, memento-filled working-class households of the Podaras clan.