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House of Cards Movie Review

minutes mom lessac sally

Rule Number One for today's screenwriters is “Write lean.” You'd think that a 109-minute movie like House of Cards would be long enough to say just about everything it had to say about the efforts of a mother and a psychiatrist to help a troubled child recover from the trauma of her father's sudden death. But let's say they cut—oh—11 minutes from that lean screenplay, minutes when they might have explained why a presumably caring mother barely notices when her daughter Sally clicks off to the outside world. Minutes when they might have explained why Mom continues to appear cavalier as her little girl's deep distress becomes more and more obvious. Or minutes when they might have explained why Mom could expose Sally to a high architectural structure when the kid has nearly fallen to her death twice. All these missing minutes turn what could have been a consistently absorbing story into one that grinds to a halt every so often as you ask yourself, “Why the heck did they do that?” Screenwriter Michael Lessac was the director on this one, so the film's flaws and virtues can fairly be attributed to his vision or lack of same. The Mom in House of Cards was originally supposed to be a Dad, but when Kathleen Turner heard that Lessac wanted William Hurt for the lead, she said, “Hey, what about me?” and the role was hers. Would it have made more sense if a FATHER was the clueless parent? Maybe, because we expect mothers to be the caretakers. Since Turner's character, very definitely, is established as the parent responsible for raising Sally, her laissez-faire behavior makes us question both her inclinations and her ability to help her kid. Dr. Tommy Lee Jones is brought into the plot to strike a few subterranean sexual sparks with Mom (they never ignite) and to drag Sally into a clinical setting where autistic and other troubled kids remain in their own irretrievable inner worlds. Mom resists this approach and tries another, with the aid of a recently ubiquitous cinematic tool: virtual reality. The device is mostly hooey, but works at the level of science fiction. In fact, the entire movie plays well enough, in fits and starts, to make you realize that a few more drafts would have turned House of Cards into the thoughtful, lovely film it deserved to be.

1992 (PG-13) 109m/C Kathleen Turner, Asha Menina, Tommy Lee Jones, Shiloh Strong, Esther Rolle, Park Overall, Michael Horse, Anne Pitoniak; D: Michael Lessac; W: Michael Lessac; C: Victor Hammer. VHS, LV, Closed Caption

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