Back When We Were Grownups *** (out of four)
9 p.m. Sunday, Channel 4
This Sunday's CBS movie, "Back When We Were Grownups" (9 p.m., WIVB-TV) is a tasty, fulfilling Thanksgiving treat for adult viewers.
A few days before families across the nation will gather to enjoy some good meals, renew some old arguments and perhaps reflect on their life choices, this Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation reminds us that all we can ask of ourselves is to do the best we can.
And that no matter how messy and complicated and jealous family relationships might be, the only one who can accurately judge how you feel about your choices is yourself.
The centerpiece of this delectable film based on the novel by Anne Tyler is the ageless Blythe Danner, the widow of television producer Bruce Paltow ("The White Shadow," "St. Elsewhere") and the mother of movie star Gwyneth Paltrow.
Danner stars as Rebecca Davitch, who ditched her dull fiance decades ago to marry a man who loved life and had three daughters. The couple had a fourth daughter, before Rebecca became a widow at age 26 and had to raise all four kids alone.
It wasn't an easy situation for the selfless Rebecca. She never complained but is practically forced to question her choices when she witnesses how selfish her daughter and stepdaughters behave under far easier circumstances.
The daughters complain about practically everything, even the creative rhymes that Rebecca sprinkles in to enliven family get-togethers. The daughter's complaints make them even more unappealing because they appear to be unaware and unappreciative of the sacrifices their mother-stepmother made for them.
Not only did Rebecca raise her husband's three daughters, she takes care of a 99-year-old man, Poppy (Jack Palance), who is the brother of her father-in-law.
The one family member who appreciates Rebecca is her brother-in-law and confidante, Zeb, who quotes George Eliot and is delightfully underplayed by University of Buffalo graduate Peter Riegert. At least he thinks he quotes Eliot when he says, "It is never too late to be what you want to be."
Zeb isn't the only one dispensing Hallmark card philosophy. Near the end of the film, old Poppy tells Rebecca: "Your true life is the one you end with."
The cast also includes Faye Dunaway as the worldly, selfish first wife of Rebecca's husband; Ione Skye, Stacy Edwards, Betsy Brandt and Blake Lindsley as the daughters whose behavior often rhymes with rich; and Peter Fonda as the flickering old flame, Will, whom Rebecca had abandoned.
Will returns to Rebecca's life after she considers making some changes. She eventually comes to a conclusion about their relationship well after the audience undoubtedly will. Fonda is exceptional playing an unexciting character that is the opposite of the old Easy Rider's image back when he first became a grown-up.
A small movie that feels more like a play, "Grownups" is exactly what it wants to be, a precious, understated film that celebrates family at the same time it reminds us how tough it often can be to be part of the only one they've got.
CBS' movie will be competing with another grown-up story, the TNT movie "The Wool Cap," which premieres at 8 p.m. Sunday and is repeated at 10 p.m. and midnight.
From the same team that produced last season's "Door to Door," "The Wool Cap" is also an unconventional family story. The cable network is calling it an "edgy" drama, its way of saying it has adult content and isn't for young kids.
William H. Macy, who won an Emmy for "Door to Door," co-wrote the script, which is based on a 1962 Jackie Gleason film, "Gigot," set in Paris. Macy stars as a mute building superintendent, Gigot, who lives in the basement with his pet monkey. He ends up taking care of much more than the run-down building and eventually rebuilds his relationship with his own family.
His life changes when he reluctantly becomes the caretaker of a bright, energetic young girl, Lou (Keke Palmer), who is abandoned by her drug-addict mother. Don Rickles lends strong support as a wise-cracking, philosophical tenant, who throws out opinions on Mormons, bureaucrats and Republicans. The impressive cast also includes Catherine O'Hara as Gigot's girlfriend and Ned Beatty as his estranged father.
Macy is exceptional illustrating Gigot's feelings and frustrations in a film that plays like a mystery. Along the way, viewers discover how Gigot lost his voice, the symbolism of his prized cap and the difficulties and joy of finding forgiveness and forgiving oneself.
With a haunting musical score and some top-notch performances, "The Wool Cap" eventually warms the heart as well as the head.
Rating: 3 1/2 stars
Attention fans of "Alias": ABC has announced the Jennifer Garner spy series returns with a two-hour premiere at 9 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 5. It will air at 9 p.m. Wednesdays weekly. It will follow "Lost," the freshman hit from J.J. Abrams, who also is the creator of "Alias." It also means "Alias" will compete with NBC's "The West Wing" and CBS' "King of Queens."
"The Bachelorette" will move from Wednesday to 9 p.m. Mondays after the Monday Night Football season ends. The first episode featuring Jen Schefft and shot in New York City will be two hours and air on Jan. 10. ABC will air three reality TV shows on Monday night after football, which has always been a difficult night to program for the network.