Mental illness just isn't as warm and fuzzy as Hallmark would like. 

Glossy Reality

Welcome to the warm-and-fuzzy, pink-and-blue, Thumper-and-Bambi world of - schizophrenia?

Wait. There's something wrong here. There's an oxymoron at work. There's nothing warm and fuzzy about schizophrenia. It's a terrible, crushing illness that plays havoc with those who must live with it as well as those who care about — and for — its victims.

And yet, Hallmark Hall of Fame's production of "My Sister's Keeper" would have us believe that warm-and-fuzzy and mental illness can occupy the same plot at the same time. Doesn't that defy the laws of physics? It certainly defies the laws of logic. It also makes for fatuous drama.

And fatuous is the precise, perfect word to describe "My Sister's Keeper."

The TV script is based on "My Sister's Keeper: Learning to Cope with a Sibling's Mental Illness," a memoir by Margaret Moorman. But it's hard to believe that somebody who lived day by day through the difficulties that Moorman faced in caring for and reconciling with her mentally ill sister after their mother's death could paint such a Disneyfied picture as this. My bet is that she didn't, that screenwriter Susan Tarr and the Hallmark folks tried to do a Doris Day number on the story, guaranteeing failure. (I haven't read the book, but if reading Moorman's memoir is a prerequisite to watching the TV drama, then Hallmark faces problems greater than the screenplay: The book recently ranked 681,366 in sales on Amazon.com.)

In a nutshell, "My Sister's Keeper" is the story of Christine and Judy. Christine is the elder sister, who is diagnosed with schizophrenia at an early age. Their mother, Helen, does her best to get Christine the help she needs, but Christine is in and out of hospitals and on and off an array of medications before she leaves her teen-age years behind. Helen, meantime, is intent on shielding Judy from her sister's problems, but the one difficulty she can't ward off is her own death: When Helen dies, Judy must choose between her job as an art editor for a glossy magazine in New York and caring for her sister in Northern Virginia. Sisterhood trumps (would Hallmark even consider a story that took the other road?), and Judy and Christine eventually find common ground if not mutual happiness.

The problems with "My Sister's Keeper" began when Hallmark picked the chronicle for its 212th Hall of Fame production. Warm and fuzzy is Hallmark's … er … hallmark, and this story simply can't go that way. And despite stellar efforts by Academy Award-winner Kathy Bates ("Misery") as Christine, Oscar nominee Lynn Redgrave ("Gods and Monsters") as Helen, and Elizabeth Perkins ("Big") as Judy, the story just can't be shoehorned into the Hall of Fame glass slipper. And not all the saturated-color, nostalgic set dressing and soft-focus camerawork in Hallmark's arsenal can make it work.

If Hallmark expects to inveigle people into buying Valentine's Day cards in greater numbers than ever this season with "My Sister's Keeper," they can just give it up. What's next — "Bambi in the Snake Pit?" "The Three Faces of Thumper?" Shhhh. Don't give them any ideas.

Airs Sunday, Jan. 27, at 9 p.m. on CBS-TV.


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