Lifetime scored a major coup by securing the rights to Susan Monk Kidd’s best-selling novel “The Mermaid Chair” and then by snagging Kim Basinger as the telepic’s star. In return, the net should be rewarded generously by the women who love movies for women. Slickly produced, “Chair” boasts haunting cinematography by Mike Southon, an impressive supporting cast and director Steven Schachter’s deft hand, which vacillates seamlessly between things remembered and things realized. Ultimately, that really makes the film work.
Scribe Suzette Couture, for the most part, stays faithful to Kidd’s book about the psyche of a woman in a seemingly dispassionate marriage, who is tormented by her father’s mysterious death and called back home by her mother’s disturbing self-mutilation.
As with any book-turned-movie, the director’s interpretation can be hotly debated. Here the steamy wilds of fictional Egret Island, S.C., look cold and forebidding. Basinger’s ensuing ennui feels more detached than tormented. But Schachter’s dreamy style along with Rolf Lovland’s emotionally wrought score overcome most discrepancies.
Jessie (Basinger) is a woman who seemingly has it all — a beautiful house, a husband who cooks breakfast and all the time in the world to wax poetic in her in art studio. When her mother inexplicably starts cutting off her own fingers, Jessie returns to her childhood home to discover the cause of her mother’s distressing behavior and the source of her own indifference. Once there, she rediscovers her passion for art, learns the truth about her past and finds love with a Benedictine monk.
Jessie’s story is a solid exploration of the sense of loss and self that seems to accompany middle age, especially after children leave home. More importantly here, Jessie’s ensuing self-awakening comes less from her affair and more from the bonds forged between the women who share her life experiences.
Still, it is Lifetime, and the symbolism is a tad overwrought. Basinger does an admirable job, although her performance, at times, veers toward petulant. It seems as if someone in hair and makeup tried their best to make the star looked as washed out as possible, evoking her emotional state through incrementally worse hair.
Alex Carter is an atypical choice for Brother Thomas, considering that he lacks star power. A throwback to the old school romantic leads with brain and braun, his Brother Thomas has a touch of Rev. Dimsdale-like torment, but with untapped hunk potential.
Bruce Greenwood makes much of his short time in the traditionally thankless role of the wronged partner and gives nuance to the stalwart Hugh Sullivan. Pic could benefit from more girl time with the wonderful Debra Mooney and Lorena Gale as Kat and Hepzibah, the women who guide Jessie on her journey. They epitomize supporting characters in the best sense of the word.