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TV REVIEWS

'Zachary' Proves a Subject With No Verve

September 21, 1996|ROBERT KOEHLER

If "Two Mothers for Zachary" is typical of the kind of TV movie competition that "The X-Files" will be facing when it moves to its new Sunday night time slot Oct. 27, then count on a trouncing by Mulder and Scully.

Unaccountably luring the talents of Vanessa Redgrave, this pallid account, based on recent events, of a lesbian mother's fight for custody of her child in Virginia courts is almost astonishing in its boring plainness. Out-and-out melodrama would even be a welcome alternative to writer Linda Voorhees' idea of a drama.

The movie's first, insurmountable hurdle is making us believe that Redgrave is the mother of Valerie Bertinelli, and that they're both a step above Southern white trash. In what is surely the least expressive role of her extraordinary career Redgrave, the master technician, actually gets sloppy here and loses her Virginia dialect from time to time for an accent that sounds vaguely Midlands England.

As a possessive woman in total denial of her husband's abuse of Bertinelli's Jody Ann Shaffell, Redgrave's Nancy Shaffell demands custody of her daughter's son Zachary when she learns that Jody Ann is living with her lesbian lover, Maggie (Coleen Flynn). Always her family's black sheep, Jody Ann fights back in court, but in homosexual-hostile Virginia, her battle is about as impossibly uphill as this movie's chances of generating any dramatic thrust.

In what was meant to be a blow for lesbian motherhood, "Two Mothers for Zachary" is skittish of revealing any more than a light kiss between the two women. The filmmakers weakly try to compensate for their lack of spine by piling on the rants from moralist types and other angry heterosexuals just to get the message home. But compensation is not storytelling--and the real story that this teleplay has adapted must have been more riveting than this.

* "Two Mothers for Zachary" airs at 9 p.m. Sunday on ABC (Channel 7).

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