Buoyed by a beautifully measured star turn by Whoopi Goldberg and a smashing screen debut for young Neil Patrick Harris, Clara’s Dream is a powerful, unabashedly sentimental drama. Adaptation of Joseph Olshan’s novel pays attention to the values of a well-wrought character study of a noble Jamaican servant (Goldberg) and the young rich kid (Harris) she guides through adolescent rites of passage.
Goldberg enters Harris’ spoiled, uppercrust world in a family mansion outside Baltimore in a roundabout fashion: Harris’ weepy mom (Kathleen Quinlan) is vacationing in Jamaica with hubbie (Michael Ontkean), tormented by the death of her infant daughter, when the hotel maid Clara (Goldberg) brings her back to life with doses of folk wisdom.
Captured in lush autumnal hues by ace British lenser Freddie Francis, Clara’s Heart is a beauty to behold, buttressed by a moving, wistful Dave Grusin score. Goldberg’s control and strength, including an unwavering Jamaican accent, build cumulatively to deep emotional impact. Support roles are ably filled including the required callousness of Quinlan’s and Ontkean’s characters.