×

Oprah Winfrey Presents: David & Lisa

First, a personal note: the first time I saw the original "David and Lisa," I was all of 5 years old, the son of parents who didn't understand that maybe this wasn't exactly appropriate material for an impressionable little kid to watch on a bigscreen. It deeply affected me to see hypersensitive oddballs weren't restricted to my dysfunctional family.

With:
Dr. Jack Miller.....Sidney Poitier David.....Lukas Haas Lisa.....Brittany Murphy Maggie.....Debi Mazar Alix<cq.....Allison Janney Natalie.....Kim Murphy Joey.....Guiseppe Andrews Tyrone.....Vicellous Reon Shannon Kevin.....Gene Wolande Molly.....Kimiko Gelman Doris.....Giselle deCerda Felicia.....Samaria Graham Raymond.....Eric "Ty" Hodges II Francesca.....Diva Zappa Some movies are simply meant not to be remade, and as well-intentioned as this telepic produced under the "Oprah Winfrey Presents" banner surely is, it's destined to suffer in comparison to the stark anguish of the brilliant 1962 indie feature by Frank and Eleanor Perry. This edition very much resembles the project out of time that it is, though it almost qualifies as bold for a network to present any sweeps-time film that doesn't involve plucky heroines or isn't adapted from a racy novel. Kudos to ABC for that.

First, a personal note: the first time I saw the original “David and Lisa,” I was all of 5 years old, the son of parents who didn’t understand that maybe this wasn’t exactly appropriate material for an impressionable little kid to watch on a bigscreen. It deeply affected me to see hypersensitive oddballs weren’t restricted to my dysfunctional family.

By contrast, this made-for-TV “David and Lisa” lacks a similar surrealistic sense of disconnection and despair as was embodied in the boffo work in ’62 of newcomers Kier Dullea (who would go on to star as Dave in “2001: A Space Odyssey”) and especially Janet Margolin. What it carries instead is a spirited message that love conquers all, even if you happen to be a teenager who is certifiably wacko. Unfortunately, “David and Lisa” never really gives us a sense of why its protagonists are the way they are, other than clearly misfiring synapses.

Lukas Haas is all doe-eyes, oversized ears and tortured angst as David, a genius who has a pathological fear of being touched and excruciating recurrent nightmares in which he uses a giant clock to behead anyone who dares invade his tortured space. His perplexed mother commits to a school/institution for troubled youth where he meets the compassionate Dr. Jack Miller (Sidney Poitier) and a luminous young woman named Lisa (Brittany Murphy).

Dr. Miller works hard to bust through David’s impenetrable facade, but it’s Lisa — an emotionally-disconnected waif who will speak only in rhyme — who is finally able to lower David’s defenses with her pouty lips and puppy-dog vulnerability.

Murphy, so good as the sad-sack Tai in the film “Clueless” and who gives voice to LuAnne each week in Fox’s “King of the Hill,” is terrific here as well, turning in sparkling work as a complex lost soul. She pulls off the difficult trick of blending coquettish sensuality with aimless angst, in the process supplying the film’s true backbone.

Haas, the Amish kid in “Witness” all grown up now, makes David ultimately emerge as unlikable, worthy of our pity but not our support. And it doesn’t help that he has virtually no chemistry with Poitier, who tries gamely to stretch his understanding “To Sir, With Love” persona into shrinkdom. But as fine an actor as Poitier is, it doesn’t quite work because he’s miscast, coming across as strangely cut off.

Teleplay from helmer Lloyd Kramer (with assists from Eleanor Perry and from Theodore Isaac Rubin, who penned the book on which the original movie was based) sticks closely to the simplicity that guided the first “David & Lisa.” But for some reason, the dialogue comes across here as a bit trite and repetitive.

It all represents a nice try for Oprah and her Harpo Prods., a swell attempt to make a film about tangible human emotions rather than the usual babes in jeopardy. But it’s undercut by the distinct feeling we’ve been down this road before. Because we have.

Tech credits are superior.

Popular on Variety

Oprah Winfrey Presents: David & Lisa

(TELEPIC; ABC, SUN. NOV. 1, 9-11 P.M.)

Production: Filmed in Los Angeles by Harpo Films. Executive producers, Oprah Winfrey, Kate Forte; co-executive producer, Paul Heller; supervising producer, Steve McGlothen; director, Lloyd Kramer; writers, Kramer, Eleanor Perry, Theodore Isaac Rubin; production designer, Clark Hunter.

Crew: Camera, Douglas Cooper; editor, Igor Kovalik; music, Marco Beltrami; sound, Willie Burton; casting, Debra Zane, Ronna Kress. 2 HOURS.

With: Dr. Jack Miller.....Sidney Poitier David.....Lukas Haas Lisa.....Brittany Murphy Maggie.....Debi Mazar Alix<cq.....Allison Janney Natalie.....Kim Murphy Joey.....Guiseppe Andrews Tyrone.....Vicellous Reon Shannon Kevin.....Gene Wolande Molly.....Kimiko Gelman Doris.....Giselle deCerda Felicia.....Samaria Graham Raymond.....Eric "Ty" Hodges II Francesca.....Diva Zappa Some movies are simply meant not to be remade, and as well-intentioned as this telepic produced under the "Oprah Winfrey Presents" banner surely is, it's destined to suffer in comparison to the stark anguish of the brilliant 1962 indie feature by Frank and Eleanor Perry. This edition very much resembles the project out of time that it is, though it almost qualifies as bold for a network to present any sweeps-time film that doesn't involve plucky heroines or isn't adapted from a racy novel. Kudos to ABC for that.

More Film

  • Renee Zellweger'Judy' film premiere, Arrivals, Samuel

    'Judy's' L.A. Premiere: Renée Zellweger Takes Another Ruby Step Toward the Oscars

    Renée Zellweger continues to follow the yellow brick road to the Oscars. The Los Angeles premiere of Judy on Thursday night in Beverly Hills kept the Academy Award winner on track for a possible second win come February. “We’re just so happy we’re able to share it with you tonight,” Zellweger said to the crowd [...]

  • Benedict Andrews (L) and US actress

    Kristen Stewart on the 'Insane Gall' of Directors as 'Seberg' Arrives in San Sebastian

    SAN SEBASTIAN – On Friday, Kristen Stewart and Benedict Andrews’ political thriller “Seberg” plays at the 67th San Sebastian Film Festival, where it opens Perlak, a section dedicated to the Spanish premieres of major international films. The star and her director addressed the media prior to the screening in the festival’s first high-profile press conference, [...]

  • Les Miserables

    Ladj Ly's Cannes Prize-Winner 'Les Miserables' Is France's Oscar Submission

    Ladj Ly’s politically charged drama “Les Miserables,” which won the Jury Prize at Cannes, has been chosen by France’s Oscar committee to enter the international feature film race. In one of the most competitive years for French movies, “Les Miserables” beat out Celine Sciamma’s “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” the 18th-century-set romance which won [...]

  • David Kehrl neuer Head of Acquisitions

    'Resident Evil's' Constantin Names Acquisitions, International Co-Production Chief

    David Kehrl is to join Constantin Film, Germany’s leading independent movie producer and distributor, as the head of acquisitions and international co-production. He will report to Martin Moszkowicz, chairman of the executive board at Constantin Film, which produces the “Resident Evil” movies. Starting in February, Kehrl will be responsible for the acquisition of international theatrical [...]

  • The Plague Season 2 Spanish TV

    Telefonica, Atresmedia to Create Content Factory Behemoth

    SAN SEBASTIAN  — In a game-changing move for Spanish-language production Telefonica, Europe’s third biggest telco, and Atresmedia, the original co-creators of “La Casa de Papel,” are uniting to create a new joint contents production giant. Aimed at gaining more scale and uniting talent relations – writers, directors and producers – the 50/50 joint venture will [...]

  • KKR-Backed German Media Conglomerate Finally Has

    KKR-Backed German Media Conglomerate Finally Has a Name: Leonine

    The KKR-backed German media company formed through the merger of Tele München Group, Universum Film, i&u TV, and Wiedemann & Berg Film finally has a name: Leonine. The company revealed its moniker Friday, saying that “Leonine” met its criteria of being associated with its home region of Bavaria and Munich, in southern Germany, and of [...]

  • Scattered Night

    San Sebastian New Directors Jihyoung Lee and Kim Sol Talk ‘Scattered Night’

    After taking the Korean Competition Grand Prize and the best acting award (Moon Seung-a) at the Jeonju Intl. Film Festival, “Scattered Night” now heads to San Sebastian’s New Directors selection. An intimate portrayal of a family whose members are deeply isolated from one another, the film follows two parents overwhelmed by their responsibilities, their own [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content