Good books don’t always translate into good TV movies, especially one that is as complex and character-driven as Christina Bartolomeo’s :Cupid and Diana,” the novel that serves as the basis for Hallmark Hall of Fame’s 205th presentation. Although the telepic boasts a stellar cast of Tony and Emmy winners including Mary-Louise Parker, Bebe Neuwirth and Philip Bosco, among others, this romantic drama is nearly devoid of the sense of community and family that was so delicately wrought in the book. Director Brent Shields does his best to keep up with the events covered in Jennifer Miller and Ron Raley’s script, but the result is major life events and plot points flashing by at breakneck speed. This isn’t slice of life drama, it’s the whole darn pie thrown in your face.
Granted, Miller and Raley have the formidable task of conveying in just two short hours the intertwined relationships and overlap of emotions between work, family and love. But in their attempt to cover the more dramatic events of this complex story, the scribes lose the rich texturing and characterization of Cate (Parker), a woman whose personal relationships are tainted by her ongoing feud with her overbearing father.
Cate’s the youngest of a large Italian/Irish American family, still reeling from the death of her alcoholic mother, and constantly at odds with her critical father Dominic (Bosco). Her vintage clothing store is doing poorly, despite the support of her button-down boyfriend Philip (David Lansbury), who comes from a traditional Washington political family.
The relationship between Cate and Philip, while reliable, is devoid of any passion. When Cate meets Harry (Peter Gallagher), a ragtag lawyer from New York, she gets a glimpse of the kind of love she’s always dreamed of.
Gallagher is appealing as the shaggy Harry, who’s as soft and sensitive as Philip is cold. But Parker, who is supposed to be acerbic and wounded, comes off as irritable and distant. In fact, almost all of the characters are defined by stereotype instead of nuance. Cate, funky and independent, is always wearing a beret and heavy eye makeup. Francesca (Neuwirth) is the meddling older sister. Cynthia (Joanna Going) is daddy’s little girl. Italian families equal chaos, noise and food. Waspy political families are quiet, dull and repressed.
The movie’s message — that love happens, just not in the package you expect — is sidetracked by innumerable subplots and characters that are a one-way street. What exactly was Willy’s (Brenda Fricker) relationship with Cate’s mother? What about Simon (Kurt McKinney), the soap opera actor Cynthia is dating? None of it really goes anywhere, and neither does the movie.
Perhaps in the hands of, say, Nora Ephron, someone attuned to both the inherent humor and pain of personal relationships, the film could work. But Shields is too busy checking off a grocery list of events from the book without ever allowing viewers time to bond with the characters.
Postcard shots of Washington landmarks and neighborhoods by Kees Van Oostrum provide “Cupid & Cate” with the film’s only sense of place, while costume design by Hope Hanafin and production design by Mel Bourne give the production some much needed style. Other technical credits, including music by Mark Adler, live up to the Hallmark brand.