Lifetime’s latest acquisition, “Return to Zero,” is a painful portrait of devastating loss, pivoting on a performance by Minnie Driver that acutely captures those raw feelings. Based on writer-producer-director Sean Hanish’s personal experience, the movie chronicles a couple dealing with a still-born baby and the consequences its aftermath produces on their relationship. While the Lifetime-movie crowd will no doubt be able to identify with the emotion, the movie gets a tad uneven in the later going, stumbling toward a resolution that begins to fray around the edges, despite a first-rate cast.
Maggie (Driver) and her husband Aaron (Paul Adelstein) have one of those picture-perfect lives, and they’re going through the usual mix of excitement and anxiety as they prepare for the birth of their first child. Moreover, her best pal (Andrea Anders) is also due a couple of months behind her, meaning there’s no shortage of showers and pastel-hued planning in their future.
After some unexpected bleeding, Maggie makes an ordinary doctor’s visit and discovers her baby has died in the womb. Understandably grief-stricken, the stress is only amplified by everything going on around her, with friends and family having no idea what to say in seeking to console her, and Aaron’s attempts to help falling thuddingly flat — “You can’t make this go any faster,” Maggie eventually protests to him — not that her friends or mother (Kathy Baker) fare much better in soothing her.
While it’s pretty wrenching stuff, it’s around this time that “Return to Zero” — true story or not — starts to take some Lifetime-like detours, from the tone-deaf callousness of Aaron’s dad/boss (Alfred Molina), who puts business ahead of everything; to Aaron’s dalliance with an attractive co-worker (Sarah Jones), coming off her own deflating run-in with a married man.
Finally, there’s that trip to Vegas where what happens between the central couple, at least in this case, won’t stay there, testing whether they can repair the damage and start over.
The long list of support groups and acknowledgements scrolling over the closing credits makes clear how deeply personal this project was, and Hanish deftly zeroes in on how all the preparation and enthusiasm surrounding a new baby magnifies the enormity of the parents’ pain here — as well as the different ways people cope, or don’t, with such events.
Certainly, the heartbreaking aspects of the story should strike a sympathetic chord. Yet in its final arc, “Return to Zero” can’t fully sustain its strengths with the depth of conviction necessary to find its way back and close the circle.