If CBS hopes to lose their image as an elder-skewing net, then the Eye is stuck in reverse in the demo derby. “The Last Dance,” a warmhearted tale of a Latin teacher who grows old and reconnects with one of her students to teach him life’s most valuable lessons, would be fine fodder from the Hallmark folks but even sedentary auds can only take so much schmaltz in primetime.
At 80-years-old, Maureen O’Hara does an admirable job of taking this sudsy material and bringing some personality to it, but even a thesp of her enormous talent can’t pull off the impossible.
Wandering the streets for no particular reason, Helen Parker (O’Hara) is dealt a setback healthwise (congenital heart disease) and brought in to a local hospital to recoup. When nurse Eric Stoltz comes to check on her, the two reminisce about his days as a student in her high school class.
But for the nurse played by Stoltz, who has taken on cutting-edge roles in several critically applauded indies (“Pulp Fiction,” “The Waterdance”) and seems to be taking a step back with this milquetoast fare, life isn’t running on all cylinders either. He’s dissatisfied with his job, his wife’s (Trini Alvarado) career as a teacher is nothing more than baby-sitting angst-ridden teens, and the kids aren’t spending quality time with mom and dad.
So, of course, it takes an ill O’Hara to tell them to slow down and make sure that they’re able to enjoy life to its fullest … and any other cliche that reminds Stoltz and Alvarado that just paying the bills and getting by isn’t enough.
Parker often reminisces about her former husband, who was a soldier in World War II whom she met while he was back in the States on leave. Theirs was a love at first sight and she’s often caught daydreaming back when she and Charlie (Paul Johansson) danced the night away in each other’s arms. We’re not sure what happened to Charlie but nobody has the guts to ask.
Occasionally, Parker tries to connect the past and present with mixed results. When she travels by bus to the beach looking for a hotel that she and Charlie had visited when they were first married only to realize that the building was torn down 20 years ago, we’re left to believe she’s also losing her mind. Why the writers would want auds to think she was having mental lapses isn’t particularly clear — as if having a heart condition wasn’t bad enough.
Even though Parker’s fate is sealed, everything is tied up nicely with speeches reminding us how important teachers are, that material objects can’t be taken with you in the afterlife and students who start bawling at the sign of a hat rack as a show of affection.
Tech credits are fine but don’t add much to the overall look of the telepic.