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Back When We Were Grownups

Beautifully written, acted and directed, Hallmark's third Anne Tyler adaptation probably won't win the under-34 demo derby, but it's a rare treat for older grownups and a triumphant showcase for busy Blythe Danner, who'll simultaneously be on display in Showtime's "Huff."

With:
Rebecca - Blythe Danner Tina - Faye Dunaway Mrs. Holmes - Nina Foch Will - Peter Fonda Poppy - Jack Palance Zeb - Peter Riegert Min Foo - Ione Skye Biddy - Stacy Edwards Nono - Betsy Brandt Patch - Blake Lindsley J.J. Barrow - Julio Oscar Mechoso Peter - Thomas Curtis

Beautifully written, acted and directed, Hallmark’s third Anne Tyler adaptation probably won’t win the under-34 demo derby, but it’s a rare treat for older grownups and a triumphant showcase for busy Blythe Danner, who’ll simultaneously be on display in Showtime’s “Huff.” Capturing Tyler’s mix of the whimsical and touching, director Ron Underwood delivers a richly detailed portrait of how one woman’s fork in the road can impact dozens of lives within her extended family.

There’s something almost thrilling about a movie that dares afford prominent roles to five characters 60 and older, including octogenarians Jack Palance and Nina Foch. Give thanks to Hallmark, which apparently feels comfortable with the idea that older folks still buy greeting cards.

Foremost, the pic focuses on Danner, the calming matriarch of a wildly diverse family she largely inherited by marrying a divorced man with three daughters before having one with him of their own.

Her husband, however, died young, so living with Rebecca (Danner) is his 99-year-old uncle, Poppy (Palance), and she has become a best friend to her brother-in-law Zeb (Peter Riegert). Yet as her kids have kids of their own, Rebecca feels a pang that leads her back to the boy she unceremoniously jilted years ago, Will, an awkward professorially type played with great finesse by Peter Fonda. (It’s a reunion of sorts, the two having co-starred in “Futureworld” almost 30 years ago.)

Tyler’s books have always reveled in the quirkiness of familial ties, and “Grownups” is no exception. All told, there’s enough story here for three movies, so credit Susanna Styron and Bridget Terry with managing to condense a staggering array of side plots and characters into a cohesive whole, even if the movie proves a little scattered initially.

Ultimately, it’s left to Rebecca to hold together her family, which nearly overwhelms the clenched Will when he first meets them. Slowly, the film pares away the layers of Rebecca’s life, from her husband’s wayward ex (Faye Dunaway, in what amounts to an over-billed cameo) to why she impulsively drops one beau for another. Those scenes unfold in gauzy flashbacks, with Danner’s niece, Hillary Danner, playing her as a young woman.

Danner turns in a wonderfully warm and natural performance, flanked by top-notch players in smaller roles, including Ione Skye and Stacy Edwards as two of her peculiarly nicknamed daughters. It’s no accident Rebecca runs a party-planning business called the Open Arms, which captures her welcoming attitude toward those around her, including her stepdaughter’s surly new stepson (Thomas Curtis).

Despite the formidable challenge posed by “Desperate Housewives,” CBS’ Sunday movie has held its own ratings-wise and, just as significantly, regained some critical stature after a rough patch. Then again, it’s no surprise the latest Hall of Fame-pedigreed production would boast such quality, possessing a creative track record that anyone short of Pixar could envy.

Back When We Were Grownups

CBS, Sun. Nov. 21, 9 p.m.

Production: Filmed in Los Angeles by Hallmark Hall of Fame Prods. Executive producers, Richard Welsh, Brent Shields; director, Ron Underwood; writers, Susanna Styron, Bridget Terry, based on the novel by Anne Tyler.

Crew: Camera, David M. Walsh; editor, Tina Hirsch; music, Jeff Beal; production designer, Cynthia Charette; casting, Linda Lowy, John Brace. 120 MIN.

Cast: Rebecca - Blythe Danner Tina - Faye Dunaway Mrs. Holmes - Nina Foch Will - Peter Fonda Poppy - Jack Palance Zeb - Peter Riegert Min Foo - Ione Skye Biddy - Stacy Edwards Nono - Betsy Brandt Patch - Blake Lindsley J.J. Barrow - Julio Oscar Mechoso Peter - Thomas Curtis

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