US, 1998, 93 minutes, Colour.
Kellie Martin, Mary Steenburgen, Diane Baker, Marion Ross, Nick Searcy, Chad Christ.
Directed by Susan Rohrer.
About Sarah is quite a moving film about mental retardation of an adult.
The film was written and directed by Susan Rohrer, director of a number of television specials on social problems for after-school programming. The film is a star vehicle for Mary Steenburgen as the impaired adult (Mary Steenburgen had won an Oscar in 1980 for Melvin and Howard). Kellie Martin (the Christy films) portrays her daughter. The cast also includes Diane Baker in a strong performance as the seeming sister of Mary Steenburgen but in fact, her mother.
The film shows the generations of women: the grandmother, Rose, Marion Ross, the impaired daughter who was raped, Mary Steenburgen, and her daughter who is intellectually normal, Kellie Martin. The film opens with the mother being lost and introduces the theme of her capacity as an adult or as the equivalent of a child. When the grandmother dies, she bequeaths the care of her daughter to the young woman who has ambitions to go away to study as a doctor. Her sophisticated aunt then arrives and tries to manage the household. The film shows the difficulties in the custody issue, the question of the woman being certified as having adult capacity or not. There is a suspicion of men – and an interesting character, played by Nick Searcy, who leads audiences to think that he is reliable and their expectations are disappointingly confounded.
Mary Steenburgen gives a moving performance as the forty-year-old adult with the mentality of a child.
1.The impact of the film? A real social issue? Mental handicaps? Custody and care issues? Designed for the home audience watching a television film?
2.The town, the homes, schools, institutions, the pier? An authentic and realistic atmosphere? The musical score?
3.The opening, Sarah Elizabeth and her disappearance, Mary Beth and Grandma Rose searching for her? Finding her talking – the equivalent of a child?
4.The gradual filling in of the background – and audience surprise at Lila being Sarah Elizabeth’s mother? The role of Grandma Rose, taking Sarah out of the institution? Bringing her up? Looking after Mary Beth? The revelation of the rape and their having kept it secret? And Mike’s comment that this is where Mary Beth came from but not who she was? Lila as the aunt? Distant? Sophisticated and successful? Her husband, death? Her relationship with Sarah, with Mary Beth? Her return, her strong feelings about what should happen? Her interference? The later revelation that she was actually Sarah Elizabeth’s mother? The court case? The custody and the declaration of adulthood? A hope for honesty and good relations between the women?
5.The focus on Mary Beth, her age, her intelligence, at school, friendship with Mike? Looking after her mother, her mother as a child, putting her to bed, her disappearances? Her friendship with Johnny? Lila’s suspicions? Mary Beth’s reaction, seeming hard, Sarah’s being upset – and the irony of Mary Beth and Lila being proved right? The plans for Mary Beth to go to university, the letter of acceptance, Lila supporting her, taking Sarah to the institution, Sarah wanting to go home? Taking her to the house with the women in similar situations? The going to school, learning to cook? Johnny, the flowers, his attentions, Mary Beth going out and finding Johnny in the garden? Johnny and the pier, talking with Sarah, saying he loved her, she was beautiful? The irony of the money situation and his absconding? His later phone call, saying that he was scared? Mary Beth and the decision for Sarah to be named competent, Lila’s opposition, going to the court? The testimony in the court, the two women supporting Sarah? Her getting her autonomy?
6.Mary Steenburgen’s performance as Sarah? Credible as an adult with a child’s mentality? Initially being lost? Her relationship with Rose, in the house, meals, going to bed, her prayers? Not being able to write? Her love for her daughter? Her love for Lila but fearing that Lila hated her? The friendship with Johnny, her dependence, the flowers? Her work in the garden? Her being upset when Lila forbade her contact with Johnny? Running away, going to the shop, at the pier? Johnny and his declaration of love, writing her name, in the bottle? The issue of the money? Finding that Johnny had hurt her? The issue of the court case, Lila talking to her, explaining that she was her mother – and Sarah knowing this? The declaration in the court, about her mistake with Johnny? Her being granted competence?
7.Lila, strong woman, the gallery, smartly dressed, wealthy? Love for Sarah and for Mary Beth? The reading of the will? Getting the chain – and later giving it to Sarah as the oldest daughter of the generation? In the house, her severity about Johnny, the memories of the past? Her trying to cope, emotional? The clashes with Mary Beth? Wanting the best for her? The revelation to Sarah? In the court? The fact that she was Mary Beth’s grandmother? The honesty – and the future?
8.Grandma Rose, her taking the care of Sarah, of Mary Beth? At home, putting her to bed, the suddenness of her death?
9.Johnny, the flowers, sympathy, visiting with Sarah, her going out with him, his smooth talk? The issue of the money – and his absconding? The phone call?
10.Mike, his shock at first seeing Sarah? Mary Beth’s reaction? His later explanation of his own family, separated parents, mother suicidal? The graduation, the party, his support of Mary Beth, especially in saying that her father was where she came from but not who she was?
11.Lew, the lawyer, the reading of the will, his continued support, the court case?
12.Grace and the other people in the house, competence and incompetence, the cooking, the fellowship?
13.An emotional look at real social and family problems?