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TV REVIEW

'After Jimmy' Delivers Uneven Look at Suicide

September 24, 1996|ROBERT KOEHLER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Before it gets stuck in a curious dramatic rut, the CBS movie "After Jimmy" delivers some emotional fusillades and an exceptionally strong Meredith Baxter as the mother of a family whose eldest son falls over the cliff of depression into suicide.

While Michael J. Fox is receiving applause for maturing his Alex Keaton riff for "Spin City," Baxter shows with "After Jimmy" that she has left the "Family Ties" days long behind.

Producer-director Glenn Jordan introduces a loving clan that lives behind a white picket fence--usually the image of impending doom in TV movie land. Sam, a gentle, understanding father (Bruce Davison), pooh-poohs mother Maggie's concerns about quiet, withdrawn Jimmy (Peter Facinelli). Although Jordan and writers Judith Fein and Cynthia Saunders make Jimmy's death inevitable, Facinelli invests his troubled teen with a broiling inner life that tells us more than the lecturing speeches to follow.

*

The movie's tragedy, though, isn't so much Jimmy's death as how Maggie bungles the family's reaction to it. She arranges a private funeral; she doesn't cry; she keeps up her jogging regime; she pays the bills. She also thinks that Sam's grieving is pure self-wallowing, and is stumped when he and their younger children Billy (Ryan Slater) and Rosie (a charming little Mae Whitman) move out.

Poor Eva Marie Saint. It's her task as Maggie's mother to deliver the movie's talking points on "not being closed off" and "communicating," which sets us up for this two-hour drama's finale, in group therapy for survivors of suicide victims. In fact, "After Jimmy" pulls off an amazing hat trick in casting three superb actors--Saint, Natalija Nogulich and Zeljko Ivanek--in tiny roles that do no more than utter messages.

About halfway through, the story has lost its way, with Maggie denying what the rest of the world knows: that Jimmy killed himself. It is only Baxter's sheer conviction and deep conveyance of a super-perfectionist breaking at the seams that gives this tragedy a pulse.

* "After Jimmy" airs at 9 tonight on KCBS Channel 2.

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