Farrah Fawcett bears her burden a bit too beautifully in the CBS telepic “Jewel.” Playing a midcentury Mississippi mom who sacrifices much to raise her Down syndrome daughter, Fawcett doesn’t overdo the melodrama, but there’s a fakeness to almost every scene that makes her suffering oh-so-precious. Director Paul Shapiro clearly wished to downplay the shameless sentimentality of this story, but that’s like downplaying the campy sex appeal of Fawcett’s claim-to-fame “Charlie’s Angels.” There ain’t a whole lot left.
Fawcett plays Jewel, who narrates this tale over its 20-year time span, beginning in the mid-’40s. Hard times fall on Jewel and her large family in rural Mississippi after the war, when jobs for the menfolk get scarce. Her four kids aren’t especially pleased when Mom and Dad (Patrick Bergin) announce that another child is on the way. Then Jewel’s friend/housekeeper/midwife, the Bible-quoting Cathedral (Cicely Tyson) prophesies that this baby will be Jewel’s “test.” Uh-oh.
Since this period is pre-political correctness, we get to hear the doctor diagnose the slow-developing infant, Brenda Kay, as a “mongolian idiot,” and recommend that she be placed in an institution for the remainder of her life, expected to last only a couple of years. Jewel, of course, will have none of it, convinced that with enough love her daughter can somehow recover, despite the obvious evidence to the contrary and Cathedral’s consistent reminder that Jewel should accept Brenda Kay “as God made her.” But still, Jewel insists on moving the family to California when she reads about a school designed for “exceptional” children like Brenda Kay.
Everyone ages a bit in Los Angeles, and even as adults Jewel’s other children feel neglected by their mother’s constant attention to Brenda Kay, who outlives the doctor’s initial expectations and flourishes in her own way. In the final act, Jewel needs to come to terms with the fact that she can’t care for her vulnerable daughter forever.
The whole point of a TV movie like this one is to give your nasal passages a nice workout. But this wannabe tearjerker, with a workmanlike script by Susan Cooper based on Bret Lott’s novel, is extremely safe to watch without a box of Kleenex. Shapiro, Fawcett, Bergin and Tyson never allow the pic to go for the gut, instead coating it with a layer of contrived dignity almost as thick as Fawcett’s frosted lipstick.
Tech credits are solid.