[Screen It]


(1999) (Michelle Pfeiffer, Treat Williams) (PG-13)

Blood/Gore Disrespectful/
Bad Attitude
Tense Scenes
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Minor None Minor None Heavy
Smoking Tense Family
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Drama: Upon discovering their young son who had been lost for nearly a decade, a family tries to decide what's best for all involved, particularly the twelve-year-old "stranger" who's been uprooted from his former home and is now living with them.
It's 1988 and the Cappadoras of Madison, Wisconsin are a happy, well-adjusted family. While father Pat (TREAT WILLIAMS) pursues his restaurateur dreams, mother Beth (MICHELLE PFEIFFER) is a successful photographer and happily heads off to Chicago for her 15th high school reunion with her three kids -- seven-year-old Vincent (CORY BUCK), three-year-old Ben (MICHAEL McELROY), and infant Kerry -- in tow.

Once there, Beth asks Vincent to watch his younger brother while she checks in, but upon returning, discovers that Ben has disappeared. Despite scouring the hotel, no one can find Ben, and local detective Candy Bliss (WHOOPI GOLDBERG) is called onto the case. Even so, and despite the efforts of many volunteers, the boy remains missing and Beth's life quickly begins to unravel.

Nine years later, the Cappadoras have moved to Chicago, Pat has opened a restaurant, and Beth has reluctantly gone on with her life. A knock on the door one afternoon by a neighbor kid wanting to mow her lawn, however, changes everything. Beth immediately recognizes twelve- year-old Sam (RYAN MERRIMAN), and upon comparing pictures she's just taken of him with age-progression sketches the police made of Ben, she knows it's her son.

From that point on, the family, including sixteen-year-old Vincent (JONATHAN JACKSON) whose bad attitude stems from guilt pointing back to that fateful day, must try to figure out what's best for them, and for Sam who's forced to move back in with them and leave George (JOHN KAPELOS), his adoptive father who's unaware of the boy's past.

Unless they're fans of someone in the cast or the original novel, it's not very likely.
For language and thematic elements.
  • MICHELLE PFEIFFER plays a loving mother whose fear, anger, and guilt concerning her lost son causes her to cuss some, smoke a little and get into fights with her husband.
  • TREAT WILLIAMS plays that husband who wants his wife to get on with her life, thus causing fights between them. He also smokes and cusses a bit.
  • WHOOPI GOLDBERG plays a gay detective who helps the family and eventually becomes one of their friends.
  • JONATHAN JACKSON plays the teenage Vincent whose bad attitude and later behavior stems from his guilt linked back to the fateful day when his brother disappeared.
  • RYAN MERRIMAN plays that twelve-year-old brother, a relatively well adjusted and behaved kid who has to deal with having his life suddenly upended.


    OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
    Adapted from Jacquelyn Mitchard's best-selling novel of the same name and thematically reminiscent of 1995's "Losing Isaiah" as well as the recent case involving children having been sent home from the hospital with the wrong parents, "The Deep End of the Ocean" is a well- acted, thought provoking drama.

    It's also too methodical and slow, never really resolves the questions it raises, and probably only due to the sheer star power involved did it avoid being relegated to the more appropriate setting of a made for TV movie. In addition, while it thankfully avoids falling into the soap opera-ish melodrama above which it so precariously balances itself, the film purposefully avoids nearly any sentimentality that ends up ultimately and unnecessarily grounding the production. As such, this major theatrical release has as much of a chance to break out at the box office as does the upcoming "Star Wars" prequel of not doing so.

    While I'll admit to not being familiar with the source novel (and thus can't compare it with the big screen adaption), this version could have used a bit more sentiment. Of course, any parent will easily be able to identify with the resulting trauma that this family goes through, but parts of how events unfold and the way characters react don't always play out realistically.

    Although it was nice not to have the different family members blaming each other outright for what happened, a little of that would have been expected, especially as the panic-stricken Beth realizes that Vincent wasn't paying attention and let young Ben slip from his sight (although we later learn the truth about that). It's similarly doubtful that she'd later allow Vincent to wait by himself at school -- what with the abduction of her other son -- but we see this happen more than once.

    Likewise, the later scenes where everyone else seems to have gotten on with their lives just months after the incident -- such as at a Christmas get-together -- also feel contrived. Would Pat, the father who fights Beth's later attempts to give Sam back to his "adoptive" father, really be that happy on Christmas Eve? Sure, he's probably wearing his best game face, but we only guess that because we don't see the moment just outside the front door where he'd presumably be trying to regain his composure before entering with the family Christmas tree.

    Such moments would have added a great deal more to this picture, but they're conspicuously absent for the most part. As a result, the film lacks any true emotional connection with the audience -- beyond the "we can feel your pain because we're parents too" element -- and thus plays out more like a slow-moving documentary instead of a heartfelt, moving drama.

    As such, director Ulu Grosbard ("The Subject Was Roses," "Georgia") and screenwriter Stephen Schiff (the "Lolita" remake and the upcoming "True Crime") seem more interested in presenting thought-provoking issues regarding what really constitutes family and the old nature vs. nurture argument. Thus, we're presumably supposed to be torn over the question regarding whom should raise the boy -- his biological parents whom he no longer knows, or the adoptive father who's raised the boy but wasn't directly involved in his abduction.

    While the questions are deep and similar to those found in the Jessica Lange/ Halle Berry vehicle, "Losing Isaiah" (and will undoubtably stir up memories from several years ago of that little boy who was legally removed from the family he knew and loved to live with another), the film never really answers those questions. It plays with the answers -- teasing the audience one way and then the next -- without the film, or the involved characters, ever taking a concrete stand.

    Instead, the motivationally questionable ending has too much of a wimpy, Hollywood feel, and comes off more like just a quick solution that allows the film to end instead of being a realistically sound conclusion. Of course that's easier to believe than the moment that takes place forty-five minutes or so into the film.

    That's when Sam knocks on Beth's door. The probability that the twelve-year-old would do so and then end up living only two blocks away from his old family in a suburb of Chicago (with a population in the neighborhood of around eight million or so) is so remote and far-fetched that one needs a freighter-sized dose of suspension of disbelief to swallow that plot development.

    While I don't know if it happens the same way in the novel, any other happened upon circumstance -- Beth spots him at her daughter's school play, he shows up on the local news or in the newspaper for saving a dog's life, etc... -- would have been more realistic, not to mention believable.

    Fortunately, and serving as the film's saving grace, the performances from all involved are quite strong. Three-time Oscar nominee Michelle Pfeiffer ("The Fabulous Baker Boys," "Dangerous Liaisons"), who also helped bring this story to the big screen, delivers a strong and finely tuned performance. Giving the film some needed credibility and emotion that's otherwise somewhat lacking, Pfeiffer smartly avoids what easily could have been a melodramatic take on her character and clearly evokes the audience's collective sympathy.

    The film is clearly hers and despite a solid performance from Treat Williams ("1941," "Prince of the City") as her embattled husband, he can't escape being just a strong supporting character to her lead.

    The more interesting performances come from Jonathan Jackson (TV's "General Hospital") and Ryan Merriman (TV's "The Pretender") as the brothers who don't quite know how to deal with each other or their past. Nicely and, more important, convincingly played as "real" kids instead of the stereotypes so commonly found in today's sophomoric teen-based comedies, the two young men do a great job portraying their conflict-laden characters.

    Meanwhile, Whoopi Goldberg ("Ghost," "The Color Purple") is presumably present for some much needed comic relief -- although she gets very few opportunities to deliver that -- and for reasons unknown is categorized as a lesbian, a point that never comes into play after her initial, informative announcement.

    While the film is far from horrible, it could have used more dramatic fireworks and/or strongly projected emotional resonance with which the audience could connect. Although the filmmakers correctly assume that moviegoers will automatically empathize with the family's dilemma and Pfeiffer's character, more often than not we feel like casual bystanders rather than people truly and deeply involved with the story and its resolution. Despite the solid performances and intriguing premise, "The Deep End of the Ocean" never quite surfaces from its cool and murky depths. As such, we give the film a 5 out of 10.

    Here's a quick summary of the content found in this PG-13 rated film. Profanity consists of 2 "f" words, 10 "s" words and a small assortment of other words and phrases. Thematic issues that include the main gist of the plot, as well as the tense family scenes that follow, are the other reason for the PG-13 rating. As a result, bad attitudes among those involved warrant a heavy rating.

    Some brief, sexually related talk also occurs, as does a bit of drinking and smoking, but beyond that, the remaining categories have little or nothing in the way of major objectionable content. Nonetheless, and should you still be concerned with the film's appropriateness for yourself or anyone else in your home, we suggest that you take a closer look at what's been listed.

  • Pat gets a beer out of the fridge and opens it.
  • People have drinks (beer, wine, etc...) at Sam's "coming home" reception. At that, Vincent sneaks a few drinks of what looks like wine and later offers some to Sam who refuses it.
  • After asking Candy where they're eating, we then see Beth and her in a restaurant with beer in front of them.
  • After seeing that Vincent's in jail, we learn that it was for drunk driving and getting into an accident (we don't see any of that).
  • Sam has a tiny bit of a bloody lip after Vincent elbows him there while playing basketball.
  • Obviously the person who took little Ben has extreme cases of both.
  • Beth and Pat, sagging under the strain of trying to cope with everything, get into several fights and are somewhat mean to each other.
  • Vincent has some of both (evidently also when he was younger) toward his parents and the return of his brother (and briefly ends up in jail for drunk driving), but we learn that it's all caused by his guilt over Ben's disappearance. There's also a brief comment made about Vincent having hot-wired a car (not seen).
  • While it's not really presented in much of a tense fashion, the moment when Beth discovers that Ben is missing, and the moments immediately following that (including one where she has a breakdown and ends up biting Pat on the arm) may be tense to some viewers.
  • Some police officers wear guns in their holsters, but they're never used.
  • Phrases: "Laid" (sexual), "Who gives a sh*t?" "Jerk" and "Geez."
  • None.
  • One scene has a tiny bit of suspenseful music in it.
  • None.
  • At least 2 "f" words, 10 "s" words, 3 hells, 1 ass (used with "hole"), 1 S.O.B., 1 damn, and 5 uses each of "Oh God" and "Jesus," 4 of "Oh my God," 3 of "Good Christ," 2 each of "G-damn," "For God's sakes," "My God" and "Oh Jesus," and 1 use each of "Jesus Christ," "God" and "Christ" as exclamations.
  • Beth and a former classmate talk about a third woman and say, "Do you remember when she first got laid when she was fifteen? She told us 'I can't imagine going a month without it.'"
  • Although we don't see anything, Candy tells Beth that she's gay and that she worries that other women occasionally think she's "coming on to them."
  • After Pat nuzzles on Beth's neck and then runs his hands up to her clothed breasts (which we barely see at the bottom of the picture), she breaks away from him and comments that they don't have time to fool around. When he says that they do, she tells him, "You go get my diaphragm, fill it up with gunk, then we've got eight minutes..." He then tells her that they can have fun in eight minutes and after she turns him down again, he states that they "make love about as often as we pay the water bill." She then says that she uses contraception because she doesn't want any more kids, but it's a mute point as they get into a fight and nothing happens.
  • Both Pat and Beth smoke a few times, while some miscellaneous people on the street also smoke.
  • Ben's disappearance obviously causes panic, grief and guilt amongst the remaining family members, and there are several scenes where Pat and Beth argue vehemently about this, including one where young Vincent hears them and then provokes his infant sister to begin crying to make them stop.
  • Later, Sam is upset about having to live with his "new" family, and once again Beth and Pat get into a fight regarding what to do about that, that ends with him mad at her and sleeping on the couch.
  • Sam briefly talks about his "other" mother killing herself a few years earlier.
  • Which family Sam should live with -- his biological, or "adoptive" family and what really constitutes the term "family."
  • Suicide -- Sam briefly talks about his "other" mother killing herself a few years earlier.
  • Having a breakdown over her son's disappearance, Beth bites Pat on the arm as he tries to restrain her.
  • Vincent (as a young boy) purposefully knocks over a vase (as he's angry about the way his mother is acting).
  • Sam has a tiny bit of a bloody lip after Vincent elbows him there while playing basketball.

  • Reviewed March 8, 1999 / Posted March 12, 1999

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