“Damaged Care” is a film that has two emotional modes, righteous indignation and self-pity. Seeking to be an indictment of the managed-care industry, this Showtime original undercuts its point of view by painting the enemy as cartoonish and its hero as endlessly self-involved.
Laura Dern portrays the true-life crusader Dr. Linda Peeno, who after working at two managed-care providers and seeing how money took priority over patients ultimately became a vocal critic of the system. As told in “Damaged Care,” though, the only question can be how it possibly took her that long.
From the moment Linda goes to work at a Kentucky HMO, reviewing the decisions of who gets treated and who doesn’t, she’s confronted by grossly calculating businessmen who always seem to wander into her office whenever she’s in the process of making a decision. She’s congratulated when she denies coverage to a man who needs a heart transplant.
She finally quits that job, but she doesn’t immediately recognize the red flags over red ink at her next HMO employer. The family finances force her to stay on in this one a long time, apparently because her OB/GYN husband Doug (James LeGros) doesn’t make enough to support the family — “We can’t afford your virtue,” he tells her, even though he’s having a series of affairs Linda will later discover.
Almost as a means of justifying Linda’s prolonged inaction, teleplay writer Ilene Chaiken (“Dirty Pictures”) includes a voice-over that threads a thematic throughline: Linda, you see, must “find her voice.” Not that she seems shy, at least not in the catfights she has with nurse/bureaucrat Gemma Coombs (Michelle Clunie).
About halfway through the film, we discover to whom the voice-over belongs, a nurse who, after a series of strokes, was unable to speak except with the assistance of a voicing machine that the HMO initially sought to deny.
Pic, directed and exec produced by Harry Winer (“JFK: Reckless Youth”) takes an awfully long time to make inadequate impact. Among its digressions are two characters who could easily have been cut to the benefit of the film but for the fact that they’re played by Adam Arkin and Dern’s mum, Diane Ladd.
Arkin plays a lawyer who’s not interested in suing anyone but only in recommending an ethics class, and Ladd plays a nun who urges Linda to save the world from managed care.
“Damaged Care” is overly broad in its depiction of the issues it seeks to address, ineffective at creating a sympathetic lead, and just plain grating in its repetitiveness.