Film review: Immediate Family

Published: Saturday, Nov. 18 1989 12:00 a.m. MST

Linda, a real estate professional, wants a baby so badly it hurts - literally. She and her husband Michael, a veterinarian, have been trying to have a child for more than 10 years of marriage.

Consequently, Linda can't stand the thought of attending a birthday party for a friend's young child. But as "Immediate Family" begins, Linda and Michael go anyway, and, of course, the party is a comical disaster.

And as it becomes apparent to the moviegoer that the story will take Linda and Michael, with the help of an attorney, on a search for a young unwed mother whose newborn baby they can adopt, this picture begins to look like little more than a network movie-of-the-week.

But, oh, what a difference star power can make.

It's unlikely casting, but Glenn Close and James Woods are terrific as the aforementioned couple, and the yuppie crisis of professionals in their 30s unable to produce an heir gets the glossy Hollywood treatment from screenwriter Barbara Benedek (co-writer, "The Big Chill"), director Jonathan Kaplan ("The Accused") and executive producer Lawrence Kasdan (co-writer-director, "The Big Chill").

But "Immediate Family" is not really a comedy, though it has some very funny moments, and the real dramatic jolt this film gets is from Mary Stuart Masterson, as the 17-year-old pregnant girl who responds to their plea.

Masterson, best known perhaps as the drum-beating tomboy of "Some Kind of Wonderful" and as Cybill Shepherd's daughter in "Chances Are," is an actress of great emotional power who demonstrates an incredible range here, often without dialogue. Despite the acknowledged talents of Close and Woods it's impossible to watch anyone else in this film when Masterson is on the screen - this is Oscar-caliber work.

The story focuses on the characters played by Woods and Close as they develop a bond with Masterson that carries the three of them right up to - and beyond - the moment she gives birth. This is familiar territory and goes in all the expected directions (regular watchers of "L.A. Law" have been through it all before), but there are some wonderful moments along the way.

Woods is very funny dropping wry comments throughout the film and Close is very touching as the frustrated would-be mother. And there is a nice cameo by Jane Greer, whose banter with Jessica James is a riot. And Kevin Dillon has a hilarious scene as Masterson's boyfriend who comes to visit and "grade" the parents-to-be of his child. Most of the film, however, has a more bittersweet flavor.

As mentioned, however, it is Masterson who does the unexpected star turn here. If her mixture of inarticulate emotions doesn't touch you, have someone check your pulse.

As a side note, it should be mentioned that where Benedek and Kasdan's "The Big Chill" used a number of hit pop songs to help evoke mood and move the action, too many of the songs used here seem a bit forced. A simple orchestral score might have been more appropriate.

"Immediate Family" is rated PG-13 for profanity, which is used realistically for a change only at the peak of emotion.