Immediate Family

November 23, 2021

Immediate Family is an expert piece of moviemaking, the kind of two-hankie drama that Hollywood might have turned out as a vehicle for Joan Crawford in the 1940s, but fashioned with knowing, modern hands.

Barbara Benedek’s original screenplay (she was one of the writers on The Big Chill) is about parenthood, or, more precisely, the desire for parenthood.

Glenn Close and James Woods play an upper-middle-class Seattle couple (Vancouver, British Columbia, once again stands in for the Jet City) who cannot have children. After frustrations with fertility pills, they decide to go the adoption route, in which the pregnant mother and would-be adoptive parents meet before birth, for each others’ approval.

Our couple draws a teenage unwed mother-to-be (Mary Stuart Masterson) from a small town in Ohio. She’s given to wearing mauve buckskin jackets and listening to heavy metal, but Close and Woods are happy to take her, and await the few days left before delivery. Masterson’s leather-clad boyfriend (Kevin Dillion) arrives for a day to check out the old people and grunt his approval.

When the baby is born, with Close and Woods on hand and ready to take over, the young mother begins to be gnawed by second thoughts. And the film takes a very effective turn toward melodrama.

Director Jonathan Kaplan does a wonderful job disguising the fact that not a great deal actually happens in the film. (Virtually the same story was told over a few episodes of L.A. Law last year.) It’s about intimate scenes and quiet moments of humanity, a shared appreciation of a favorite song or the view of a plum tree from a baby’s bedroom.

Kaplan, who started his career with trucker movies (they were good trucker movies), has really come on. He has an unerring camera sense, and he really seems to have a touch with actresses. He also directed Bonnie Bedelia in Heart Like a Wheel and Jodie Foster in her Oscar-winning turn in The Accused. Glenn Close and Mary Stuart Masterson are both excellent here.

Masterson cements her claim to being the best of the young actresses. Like Foster in The Accused, she plays a blue-collar role without condescending to the character. Her first phone call to Close, full of embarrassment and youth, is a classic little scene. This is exemplary work.

First published in The Herald, October 1989

Some big boosting here of Kaplan and Masterson, for which I do not apologize. From today (2021), I cannot picture Close and Woods as a couple, but that’s not fair. Maybe it seemed credible at the time? Benedek wrote the 1995 Sabrina remake and has no IMDb credits since.