Kristin Davis receives top billing and a producer credit, but Tammy Blanchard is the primary reason to watch “Of Two Minds,” a Lifetime movie clearly patterned after the “Hallmark Hall of Fame” classic “Promise” — penned by the same writer, Richard Friedenberg, only with a gender switch. Having played a young Judy Garland and Sybil when vidpics were more plentiful, Blanchard is an inspired choice to portray a schizophrenic woman, who becomes her sister’s responsibility after the death of their mother. In the best sense, this is a TV movie like they used to make ’em.
Blanchard’s troubled Elizabeth, otherwise known as Baby, is devastated when mom dies, and sister Billie (Davis) tries having her live with her family, including husband Rick (Joel Gretsch) and kids Mollie (Mackenzie Aladjem) and Davis (Alex Le Bas). Davis is shy and sensitive, and thus feels a sympathetic kinship toward his aunt’s inward ways, and vice versa.
Accommodating Baby’s mood swings and needs, however, brings considerable stress into the home. The television “makes me hear voices,” she complains, and simple tasks or deviations from routine can trigger uncomfortable episodes. “Does Aunt Baby have to stay here?” Mollie asks.
Directed by Jim O’Hanlon, “Of Two Minds” follows key story beats from “Promise” — a 1986 movie starring James Garner and James Woods — in much the way Neil Simon’s female version of “The Odd Couple” conformed to that template. Even so, it’s a choice showcase for Blanchard, whose performance goes beyond the customary quirks associated with playing someone who is mentally ill and proves fearless and wrenching, full of awkward tics and distant gazes.
Then again, the whole cast is topnotch, with Louise Fletcher (appropriately, if you consider the movie that launched her career) dropping in as an aunt whose idyllic farm might provide the tranquility to actually find Baby a home.
Friedenberg’s script — wonderfully sensitive, then and now — is notable for its spare approach to the no-win situation of what to do when a loved one has such a condition, either allowing them to disrupt one’s life or shipping them off to a care facility. Indeed, the subject matter resonates because it’s devoid of easy answers and moralizing judgments.
Given the dwindling number of TV movies and the emphasis on true crime or other fact-based fare, “Of Two Minds” represents a throwback on multiple levels. Still, credit Lifetime with taking a flyer on a “Promise” for a new generation, and making a movie that delivers on its promise, no two ways about it.