Review: ‘Little Girls in Pretty Boxes’

Little Girls in Pretty Boxes (Sun. (19), 8-10 p.m., Lifetime) Filmed in L.A. by Popular Arts Entertainment and ABC Pictures. Executive producers, Jeff Bricmont, Tim Braine; producer, Jay Benson; director, Christopher Leitch; writer , Bruce Franklin Singer; based on a book by Joan Ryan; camera, Eric Van Haren Noman; editor, Marty Nicholson; sound, Darin Knight; music, Stuart Parodi, Jeff Fair; production designer, James L. Shoppe; casting, Jason LaPadura, Natalie Hart. Cast: Swoosie Kurtz, Courtney Peldon, Philip Casnoff, John Ashton, Nike Doukas, Jennifer Paternoster, Tracy Nicole Kerestes, Aimee Walker, Dee Fischer, Linda Hart, Jim Metzler, Lily Knight, Jay Howarth, Jennifer Mitschel. Bruce Franklin Singer's sharp, timely teleplay about teenage femme gymnasts vying for a go at the Summer Olympics stings with its view of the dehumanizing process and the studies of parents consumed by raw ambition. Handsomely produced by Jay Benson, keenly directed by Christopher Leitch, beautifully photographed by Eric Van Haren Noman, "Little Girls in Pretty Boxes" is a prize. Telefilm, though it softpedals the extremes of some associated with competitive sports, centers on fictional columnist Allison Bryant (Swoosie Kurtz), her 14-year-old daughter Katie (Courtney Peyton) and creeping zeal. Allison lives outside L.A. with kind, loving husband and father Peter (John Ashton), who appreciates his daughter training with good-sort local gym coach Teri (Nike Doukas, outstanding in her brief, remindful appearances). But Katie moves up to dictatorial world-class L.A. gym instructor Radkin (Philip Casnoff), who's constantly searching for Olympic champs among his early-teens stable. Allison and Katie take an apartment in L.A. so Katie can get full benefit of master Radkin's methods. His teachings and the reactions are a revelation. His instructions are expensive, he allows no girl who drops out a shot at returning to class, and parents are never allowed on the gym floor. As a consequence, parents are herded into a glass booth where the vidpic spotlights differing parental types. Relationships among the parents are striking, if not searing; they are instructive. The real jockeying for position plays off here as the mothers sit in self-proclaimed pecking order. Allison learns she's not supposed to be near the star pupil's mom, Betty (Linda Hart in a good interp), or near a runner-up's mother (Lily Knight). No one worries much about David Klein (Jim Metzler, whose quiet study commands his scenes); his deaf daughter Diana (Aimee Walker) seems no threat. The rest don't much matter. Three girls are to be picked to compete for a Big Meet under Radkin's cold-eyed coaching. "Gymnastics is about staring down your fear," he insists, and Allison observes as her daughter starts using pain pills, antacids, fasting, turning what had been fun for her into an unnatural thrust to win. There's a seg in which even Allison is tempted; she already has a life. The three girls are picked, one's badly injured, and the teleplay reveals more and more of the changes in the once-joyful Katie. A wider spectrum of competing kids (and their parents) might have been in order, but what's there is fine. Van Haren Noman's lensing and the editing by Marty Nicholson build the Big Meet into an open struggle to over-achieve. And to suffer for it. Director Leitch's penetrating look into a worrisome world of obsession is thought-provoking. Kurtz is first-rate as the mother all but taken in by the events, and an astute Peldon (who performs all the approaches and some of the gym work, but was spelled from major gym work by a double) intelligently interprets the physical and emotional rigors of a child forced too early to bloom. Casnoff's demanding coach is frighteningly genuine, and Dee Fischer brings off the determined but basically decent Dana, the chief competitor. Telefilm admirably makes the plight of the resolute youngsters under the dreaded Radkin and under their own avidity seem dismally real. Kurtz has several memorable scenes in which Allison recognizes what is happening to Katie. And to herself. The final moments a quick fix fail the story, but the telepic still gleams. James L. Shore's production design aptly catches the ambience of gyms (telefilm uses the Van Nuys YMCA for the gymnastics), and the score by Star Parodi and Jeff Fair subtly captures the spirit of this game. Tony Scott

Little Girls in Pretty Boxes (Sun. (19), 8-10 p.m., Lifetime) Filmed in L.A. by Popular Arts Entertainment and ABC Pictures. Executive producers, Jeff Bricmont, Tim Braine; producer, Jay Benson; director, Christopher Leitch; writer , Bruce Franklin Singer; based on a book by Joan Ryan; camera, Eric Van Haren Noman; editor, Marty Nicholson; sound, Darin Knight; music, Stuart Parodi, Jeff Fair; production designer, James L. Shoppe; casting, Jason LaPadura, Natalie Hart. Cast: Swoosie Kurtz, Courtney Peldon, Philip Casnoff, John Ashton, Nike Doukas, Jennifer Paternoster, Tracy Nicole Kerestes, Aimee Walker, Dee Fischer, Linda Hart, Jim Metzler, Lily Knight, Jay Howarth, Jennifer Mitschel. Bruce Franklin Singer’s sharp, timely teleplay about teenage femme gymnasts vying for a go at the Summer Olympics stings with its view of the dehumanizing process and the studies of parents consumed by raw ambition. Handsomely produced by Jay Benson, keenly directed by Christopher Leitch, beautifully photographed by Eric Van Haren Noman, “Little Girls in Pretty Boxes” is a prize. Telefilm, though it softpedals the extremes of some associated with competitive sports, centers on fictional columnist Allison Bryant (Swoosie Kurtz), her 14-year-old daughter Katie (Courtney Peyton) and creeping zeal. Allison lives outside L.A. with kind, loving husband and father Peter (John Ashton), who appreciates his daughter training with good-sort local gym coach Teri (Nike Doukas, outstanding in her brief, remindful appearances). But Katie moves up to dictatorial world-class L.A. gym instructor Radkin (Philip Casnoff), who’s constantly searching for Olympic champs among his early-teens stable. Allison and Katie take an apartment in L.A. so Katie can get full benefit of master Radkin’s methods. His teachings and the reactions are a revelation. His instructions are expensive, he allows no girl who drops out a shot at returning to class, and parents are never allowed on the gym floor. As a consequence, parents are herded into a glass booth where the vidpic spotlights differing parental types. Relationships among the parents are striking, if not searing; they are instructive. The real jockeying for position plays off here as the mothers sit in self-proclaimed pecking order. Allison learns she’s not supposed to be near the star pupil’s mom, Betty (Linda Hart in a good interp), or near a runner-up’s mother (Lily Knight). No one worries much about David Klein (Jim Metzler, whose quiet study commands his scenes); his deaf daughter Diana (Aimee Walker) seems no threat. The rest don’t much matter. Three girls are to be picked to compete for a Big Meet under Radkin’s cold-eyed coaching. “Gymnastics is about staring down your fear,” he insists, and Allison observes as her daughter starts using pain pills, antacids, fasting, turning what had been fun for her into an unnatural thrust to win. There’s a seg in which even Allison is tempted; she already has a life. The three girls are picked, one’s badly injured, and the teleplay reveals more and more of the changes in the once-joyful Katie. A wider spectrum of competing kids (and their parents) might have been in order, but what’s there is fine. Van Haren Noman’s lensing and the editing by Marty Nicholson build the Big Meet into an open struggle to over-achieve. And to suffer for it. Director Leitch’s penetrating look into a worrisome world of obsession is thought-provoking. Kurtz is first-rate as the mother all but taken in by the events, and an astute Peldon (who performs all the approaches and some of the gym work, but was spelled from major gym work by a double) intelligently interprets the physical and emotional rigors of a child forced too early to bloom. Casnoff’s demanding coach is frighteningly genuine, and Dee Fischer brings off the determined but basically decent Dana, the chief competitor. Telefilm admirably makes the plight of the resolute youngsters under the dreaded Radkin and under their own avidity seem dismally real. Kurtz has several memorable scenes in which Allison recognizes what is happening to Katie. And to herself. The final moments a quick fix fail the story, but the telepic still gleams. James L. Shore’s production design aptly catches the ambience of gyms (telefilm uses the Van Nuys YMCA for the gymnastics), and the score by Star Parodi and Jeff Fair subtly captures the spirit of this game. Tony Scott

Little Girls in Pretty Boxes

Sun. (19), 8-10 p.m., Lifetime

Production

Filmed in L.A. by Popular Arts Entertainment and ABC Pictures. Executive producers, Jeff Bricmont, Tim Braine; producer, Jay Benson; director, Christopher Leitch; writer, Bruce Franklin Singer; based on a book by Joan Ryan;

Crew

camera, Eric Van Haren Noman; editor, Marty Nicholson; sound, Darin Knight; music, Stuart Parodi, Jeff Fair; production designer, James L. Shoppe; casting, Jason LaPadura, Natalie Hart.

Cast

Cast: Swoosie Kurtz, Courtney Peldon, Philip Casnoff, John Ashton, Nike Doukas, Jennifer Paternoster, Tracy Nicole Kerestes, Aimee Walker, Dee Fischer, Linda Hart, Jim Metzler, Lily Knight, Jay Howarth, Jennifer Mitschel.
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