Christine Lahti gives a show-stopping performance as a physician put under the news media’s microscope in Lifetime’s “An American Daughter,” Wendy Wasserstein’s smartly written and timely political drama.
Based on Wasserstein’s Tony award-winning play of the same name, “Daughter” achieves a new high for the cable web’s original movies while drawing upon a range of topics, including media, politics, feminism and, among other things, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s head band.
In fact, one could draw many allusions between Hillary and Lyssa, but Wasserstein’s screenplay is much more than an exploration into the mutual adulation of and animosity toward powerful women. It’s also a provocative look at the complex issues that converge when the definition of roles, be they gender or political, are called into question.
Dr. Lyssa Dent Hughes (Lahti) is a prominent Washington physician and fifth-generation granddaughter of Ulysses S. Grant. She’s led a privileged life, but worked hard, and is the president’s nominee for surgeon general.
When a supposedly fluff news piece about Hughes and her family turns into a scandal over a misplaced jury summons and a remark about her mother’s baking, Hughes becomes the subject of a media maelstrom. In order for Lyssa to still win the nomination, she must either overhaul her public image (which is what the spin doctors urge) or try to get the job on exemplary experience and merit.
Director Sheldon Larry works the dramatic moments of the film, especially the climax, with great finesse, pointedly asking viewers whether those who have made it through the current nomination process are the best people or the simply the most camera-savvy.Lahti is a natural choice as Lyssa, a capable and successful woman who becomes a lightning rod for a host of women’s issues. Lynne Thigpen, who originated the stage role of Dr. Judith Kaufman, Lyssa’s friend and colleague, won a Tony for her performance. She’s equally good here, despite the fact that her role as Dr. Kaufman is somewhat diminished in this small screen version.
A host of TV veterans, including Mark Feuerstein, Tom Skerritt and Stanley Anderson, round out the supporting cast, with Cynthia Harris as the shrewd but sympathetic Charlotte the real standout. However, Blake Lindsley’s turn as the Naomi Campbell-ish Quincy Quince is far too abrasive, especially as it plays off a much-subdued perf by Jay Thomas. His portrayal of Timber Tucker, an opportunistic reporter best known for his cowardice during his Gulf War coverage, is greatly underplayed, as are most of the humorous aspects of the story.
Stock shots of Washington landmarks are a little tired, as is the pomp-and-circumstance music provided by Philip Marshall. Other technical credits, especially slick lensing by Bert Dunk, are top notch.