Imagine a world where stress manifests itself in the happiest of ways and problems solve themselves. According to the original telepic “Invisible Child,” this world exists and we should all try to emulate the kind of unconditional love that would drive a seemingly normal family to spend five years wrapped up in an elaborate charade, all for the sake of a loving, but mentally unbalanced mother.
Short of playing up mental illness as quirky, this pic is one of those dangerously deceptive films — sincere in its attempt to entertain, but absolutely mindless in its treatment of an important subject. In order for viewers to enjoy this film, they have to check common sense and reality at the door.
Not that there’s anything wrong with a good daydream or fantasy every once in a while. But the script by David Field and Ron Bass waffles in emotional limbo somewhere between the good-natured fantasy of “Harvey” and the simmering dysfunction of “To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday.”
Viewers are introduced to the Beeman family through Gillian (Tushka Bergen), an English woman fresh off the boat who shows up for the nanny position. She’s hired to take care of three kids; the catch: Maggie, the five-year-old, exists only in the mind of the mother, Annie (Rita Wilson).
Tim (Victor Garber), a successful architect, works a great deal from home so he can indulge his wife’s psychosis, pretending to drive all three kids to school and eating Maggie’s bagged lunches. Ten-year-old “Doc” (Mae Whitman) plays along wearily while four-year-old Sam (David Dorfman) really believes he has a sister he can’t see.
Gillian takes everything on faith, later learning that Tim didn’t have the heart to take Annie to a therapist for fear she would be committed. But Child Protection Services gets wind of the situation and begins to investigate.
At this point, director Joan Micklin Silver (“Crossing Delancy”) really loses the reigns on the movie and the teleplay suddenly shifts from the wacky-but-happy-family to the evil, meddling childcare agency that’s trying to break up their home. Maggie, Tim and Doc argue, is as innocent as believing in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny.
The kicker is that there really is no explanation given for Annie’s behavior. The best guess Tim can make doesn’t paint Annie as just crazy, but shallow to boot. Turns out, all Annie may have really wanted was more attention.
The writers treat Annie’s behavior as if mental or emotional problems exist in a vacuum, exclusive of lasting effects on anyone else’s life. But even kids need a solid sense of reality, a point driven home when Doc breaks down, believing her father when he jokingly tells her that they’ll run away to the South Pacific, should Child Protection Services come after them.
Unconditional love is one thing, sacrificing everything because you don’t have the strength to do what should be done is a cop-out. If this movie were about alcoholism or drug abuse, Tim would be labeled an enabler, Annie would go off to therapy and the family could still live happily ever after. Imagine the time and effort saved if they would have just convinced Annie to sees a psychiatrist.
Mood and music lighten up with Wilson’s presence, but despite an earnest performance, she can’t help but come off as flaky. Garber and Wilson have believable chemistry, but unbelievable superhuman qualities. It’s hard to imagine any relationship surviving under that kind of pressure, let alone happily.
Whitman is the most commanding of the actors, and her 10-year-old character is the most mature of the lot. Bergen’s character is the real fantasy element, a stereotypical TV nanny too good to be true. Technical credits are slick and professional.