Lifetime’s latest entry in the “mom with sick kids fighting the system” TV movie genre is perfectly serviceable, breaking no new ground but avoiding mawkish sentimentality thanks to a winning performance from Mary-Louise Parker.
As Corrine Morgan, mother to two high-functioning autistic twin sons, Parker gives some spirit and verve to the role, despite being saddled with lines that belong in the drinking game for ill children movies, like: “It’s never going to get better, it’s never going to go away.” Drink!
Story unfolds in two parts, showing Corrine’s sons as troubled elementary school students: one unable or unwilling to talk, the other only able to mimic what he hears on TV or from conversations around him. After a series of misdiagnoses ranging from the two engaged in secretive “twin talk” to slow verbal development, Corrine gets the definitive verdict of autism.
In rapid succession, she is kicked out of her house by her boyfriend and the twins are threatened with being institutionalized.
Narrative has the unnerving habit of having interlopers drop in and offer support to the twins — and exposition to the story — and then just as inexplicably drop back out of their lives. The kids go from unable to communicate to talking with the help of a therapist — who promptly disappears, but only after insuring the twins will be able to stay in a mainstream school.
The next scene, which begins the second part of the made-for, jumps ahead almost 10 years and shows Steven (Zac Efron) and Phillip (Thomas Lewis) as high-functioning autistic high schoolers, a transition that is jarring. In a way, it cheats the viewer of seeing what could be the inspirational development of the children — in most cases, just learning to talk does not a successful high school student make.
Efron and Lewis are commendable in their performances for not resorting to stereotypes of the developmentally disabled. Each gets their moment to shine with a savant talent, giving the story the foundation it needs to wrap up with an optimistic finish.
Parker rises above the by-the-book plotting, showing a mother who tempers her frustration with the belief that working within the system will be the best for her children. Despite herky-jerky pacing, she sells the story — and even manages to have a believable relationship with handyman Doug Thomas (Aidan Quinn).
Production values are standard. Plot is based on the story of Corrine Morgan-Thomas and her two autistic sons. Autism specialist Dr. Lillian Stiegler consulted on the film.