“Pictures of Hollis Woods,” an early present from CBS and Hallmark Hall of Fame Prods., kicks off the yule season with plenty of star power and genuine good cheer. Director Tony Bill forgoes the recent trend of maudlin and mean-spirited holiday fare by eliciting tender performances from stars Sissy Spacek, Judith Ivey, Alfre Woodard and newcomer Jodelle Ferland.
Script by Ann Peacock (“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”), Daniel Petrie Jr. and Camille Thomasson, based on Patricia Reilly Griff’s Newbery Award-winning story, plays out in drawings and flashbacks as 12-year-old orphan Hollis Woods (Ferland) recalls the important moments from her young life. Left at the corner of Hollis and Woods in Queens as a baby, the girl grows up in the foster care system. Wise beyond her years and artistically gifted, Hollis builds up an arsenal of defense mechanisms that render her “a mountain of trouble.” Shy and retreating, Hollis turns to her art for comfort, often rejecting folks before they have the chance to reject her.
She’s guided with affection by social worker Edna Reilly (Woodard), who, after Hollis’ latest foster home disaster, places her with retired schoolteacher and artist Josie Cahill (Spacek). Hollis takes advantage of Josie’s carefree existence and forgetful nature, skipping school and causing the usual headaches for Edna. Problem is, Josie is a little more than just absent-minded and is, in fact, showing early signs of Alzheimer’s. Hollis, frightened by the thought of being taken from the one place she calls home, takes matters into her own hands.
Bill’s astute direction allows Hollis’ story to slowly unfold. As Josie’s memory starts to fail, Hollis’ own recollections of a family that wanted to adopt her become clear. Through her ordeal with Josie, Hollis realizes the perfect families that appear in her drawings need to be reconciled with real life.
“Hollis” addresses some big issues in a family-friendly format with affecting results. Young fans of the book should be satisfied with the adaptation, especially considering the depth Ferland brings to the role of Hollis. Spacek is endearing in the part of Josie, illustrating perfectly how symptoms of a very serious disease can be overlooked because of great affection and denial.
The ridiculously overwrought music is a rather intrusive problem, often pushing serious moments in the film in the opposite direction. Other tech credits are topnotch.