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It's a saccharine tale -- but sweetly told

December 07, 2007|Robert Lloyd | Times Staff Writer

"For One More Day," the novel by Mitch Albom -- the sportswriter who became a publishing phenomenon with the memoir "Tuesdays With Morrie" -- is now a movie with the instructive title "Oprah Winfrey Presents: Mitch Albom's 'For One More Day.' " We are somewhere past mere fiction here and into the realm of branded Experience. Oprah was also behind the film of "Tuesdays With Morrie," which, like the adaptation of Albom's first novel, "The Five People You Meet in Heaven," drew viewers in packs that TV movies rarely attract anymore.

Albom (when he is not writing about sports) specializes in inspirational stories set at the juncture of life and death. They are all about seizing the day and smelling the roses and appreciating what you've got before it's gone -- more specifically, they are about forgetting to seize and smell and appreciate, and being reminded to by friendly ghosts or heavenly agents or a dying former professor. (Heavenly agents also figure in the two original plays Albom has written for Jeff Daniels' Michigan-based Purple Rose Theatre Company.) The author's "Morrie" experience seems to have set him on a road to tell the world that death is not the end: Love survives it somehow or another. It is a popular message, to judge by his sales.

In "Oprah Winfrey Presents: Mitch Albom's 'For One More Day,' " Michael Imperioli plays Charley, a sad drunk who has never gotten over his parents' divorce, his injury-shortened baseball career, the death of his mother, his own divorce or his estrangement from his daughter. One rainy night, he decides to kill himself in a dugout at the Little League field in his hometown. (This is handled slightly differently in the book.)

It does not quite work out as planned, and in an astral twilight that looks like his old neighborhood, Charley meets the ghost of his mother (Ellen Burstyn, back from "Five People," along with Imperioli and director Lloyd Kramer), who, like the Ghost of Christmas Past, helps him choose life. As in the book, the film moves around in time (Charley is also telling his story to a young woman, who is also writing it).

Though Albom has a terrible weakness for homilies, overwriting is not one of his sins. No one is required to deliver too florid or lengthy a speech on how the universe works, although the author clearly has a few hopeful ideas about why we're here, the mechanics of the afterlife, and the shadow spaces between.

It is easy enough to be swayed by this sort of stuff and, while my own eyes stayed resolutely dry throughout, I would guess that "Oprah Winfrey Presents: etc." will strike a chord in many. Most of us have lost someone, or have people we fear losing; we know what it is to feel time rushing by and wanting it back, or regretting what we never managed to say. Even a hack job on a subject such as A Mother's Love can set us off once we start filling in our personal details.

It's not hard to see where it's all going, and it takes its own sweet time to get there. (What revelatory surprises are less than obvious are also less than breathtaking.) There is a feeling toward the end of waiting for the movie to catch up to you. But it looks very good -- Tami Reiker ("High Art") was the cinematographer -- and contains some lovely performances. Burstyn has the right light touch for a ghost and takes the edge off of Albom's greeting-card sentiments ("When someone is in our heart, they're never truly gone," like that). And Samantha Mathis is a moving good fit as Burstyn's younger self; her talent has grown clearer, now that she's out of her ingenue years.

Imperioli has a tougher job, as he is required to be a sullen whiner for much of the time, but he manages to stay fairly good company; it is pleasant, in any case, to see him somewhere besides "The Sopranos." As his demanding yet distant father, Scott Cohen brings some shading to a character that becomes increasingly narrow. ("No sympathy for losers" is his motto.) And as young Charley, Imperioli's own son, Vadim, is remarkably good; Albom has written him a nice, realistic, homily-free part, to be sure, but even just pulling a soft drink bottle from a cooler, he makes an impression.


'Oprah Winfrey Presents: Mitch Albom's "For One More Day" '

Where: ABC

When: 9 to 11 p.m. Sunday

Rating: TV-14 (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 14)

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