Starring Veronica Hamel as a determined, take-no-prisoners doctor who makes a shocking discovery, and Pam Dawber as a weird mom, “A Child’s Cry for Help” never quite regroups from a slow first hour.
Just when you thought there could not possibly be a medical ailment left undramatized by network producers, along comes Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome. Come again?
MBPS, as it’s become known, is a terrifying, sometimes deadly, psychological disorder that strikes single, insecure mothers who use their children to draw attention to themselves. In its virulent form, dramatized here, a mom’s twisted craving for approval causes her to deliberately make her child ill while appearing full of love and concern.
That’s the paradox that gradually unravels the mystery behind the baffling illness of the 8-year-old boy.
Early on, viewers, if not the hospital staff, will pick up on the histrionic mom as overprotective and in need of a hospital herself as she secretly sneaks laxatives and saliva into her young son’s IV needles. Motherhood hasn’t had it this bad since “Medea.”
Mercifully, if predictably, the teleplay (by Sandor Stern and Jan Jaffe Kahn from a story by Kahn) occasionally blows a little diversionary air into this claustrophobic hospital drama.
Subplot, about the doc’s (Hamel) strained relationship with her 15-year-old daughter (the vivid Cynthia Martells), may be a cliche, but it’s a relief from watching Dawber’s character smother her son with sickly attention.
Directed by Stern, the drama’s routine execution (despite its loaded theme), mirrored by routine tech credits, is undistinguished until the final minutes. That’s when Dawber’s character is exposed and she goes ballistic in a shattering courtroom showdown that betrays her dementia.
To director Stern and Dawber’s credit, her breakdown erupts like a lightning flash, an emotional jolt that compensates for much of the movie.