If Lifetime hopes to continue its ratings climb and refresh its image to match its new front office, this original film isn’t going to help matters much. If anything, “What if God Were the Sun?” is exactly the kind of movie that often makes the net a punchline for chick flick jokes.
When based on the right material, Lifetime has proven its movies can deliver the goods. This pic, based on TV psychic John Edward’s novel of posthumous family relationships, has a plot about as solid as the ghostly apparitions with whom he supposedly converses. Not that paranormal activity is anything to scoff at — tales of the afterlife have made for some compelling movies, and viewers have shown a distinct fascination with the subject. But it’s almost as if director Stephen Tolkin and scribes Janet Dulin Jones and Jamie Pachino want viewers to believe that if you don’t have a connection with your departed loved ones, then something is wrong.
Lacey Chabert, a poor man’s Jennifer Love Hewitt, stars as Jamie Spagnoletti, who is less Ghost Whisperer than Ghost Shrieker. As a harried ER nurse who is also trying to plan her own wedding, her life skills seem maxed out by seating chart arrangements.
When her policeman father dies in the ER room right next to where she’s working on an elderly female patient, Jamie loses a lot more than her composure. Mainly, she’s mad at herself for wasting time and energy on saving the old woman when she could have made amends with her estranged father. So much for bedside manner.
Still, she throws herself into settling her father’s affairs, as well as the wedding planning, with frenetic determination. Jamie’s grief, however, quickly spirals into borderline medical incompetence amid some cringe-worthy overacting by Chabert. She’s soon kicked out of the ER and sent to work in long-term care.
There, she meets the feisty Mrs. Eisenbloom (Gena Rowlands), an advanced cancer patient in search of a home nurse. Eisenbloom’s daughter Rachel (Sarah Rafferty) is at odds with her mom because she’s given up the thought of more aggressive treatment. Rachel isn’t ready to let go of her mother, while Jamie doesn’t seem to care much about anyone.
Jamie’s made such a shambles of her own life, postponing the wedding and embarrassing herself at the hospital, that she accepts the home nursing gig — but not Mrs. Eisenbloom’s plucky outlook on life and death.
Turns out Jamie is a tough nut to crack sentimentally. When Mrs. Eisenbloom tries to explain to Jamie her thoughts of life after death, Jamie tells her, “You’re just saying that because you’re dying and you want it to be true.” Ouch.
Rowlands is easily the best thing about the pic, and faces its many challenges, including cliches and colossally bad dialogue, with her reputation fairly unscathed.
Why is it, though, that a zest for life is the cinematic equivalent of a kooky hat collection? Ultimately even Rowland’s presence can’t save the film from its own overwrought emotions and preposterous posthumous allusions. Perhaps the dead are always with us, but they would surely be grateful to miss this one.