TELEVISION

Trouble with angels

Two girls find that growing up is hard to do

VICTOR DWYER January 25 1993
TELEVISION

Trouble with angels

Two girls find that growing up is hard to do

VICTOR DWYER January 25 1993

Trouble with angels

TELEVISION

Two girls find that growing up is hard to do

Of all life’s stages, the one that begins where childhood ends and ends where adulthood begins is for many people the most difficult. Adolescence is a time of raging hormones and antiparent rants. It is also a time for forging a personal world outlook—for deciding what to keep, and what to discard, from the value

LIAR, LIAR

(CBC,Jan. 24, 8 p.m.)

I’LL NEVER GET TO HEAVEN (CBC,]an. 31, 8p.m.)

systems handed down by friends, family, church and state. Now, two strong and superbly acted CBC dramas explore that period of change and anxiety. Set in modern-day Vancouver, Liar, Liar is both a troubling family drama and an intriguing mystery focused on a young girl who accuses her father of sexually molesting her. Lighter, but just as moving, is I’ll Never Get to Heaven, about a girl growing up in a strict Roman Catholic family in 1960s Toronto, and of her tortured attempts to come to terms with right and wrong.

Like many families, the one headed by Gil and Mary Farrow (Art Hindle and Rosemary Dunsmore) in Liar, Liar has its problems. He is unemployed. She is exhausted from supporting the family as a postal worker. Already, the

eldest of their four children has “slept her way into an early marriage,” as her father puts it. The next oldest, 11-year-old Kelley (Vanessa King), who is herself discovering boys, has a tempestuous, love-hate relationship with her hot-tempered father. Although she is, he says, his “special angel,” Kelley is also a troublemaker, an inveterate teller of tall tales and a master at igniting her father’s short fuse.

When that happens, he metes out punishment behind the locked door of the family bathroom. Angry at her father, and apparently encouraged by a teacher’s lecture about sexual abuse, Kelley tells a friend that she is going to “get” him. “I’ve got a plan,” she says, and soon after publicly accuses her father of having molested her.

When Liar, Liar moves from the Farrow home to the courtroom, it loses a bit of punch, at times getting lost in a legal dissection of the family’s problems. But first-rate performances help to bring the nightmarish atmosphere alive. Especially powerful are Kate Nelligan as Susan Miori, the steely lawyer representing Kelley, and Dunsmore as the weary, divided mother. Newcomer King, meanwhile, does a y convincing job as Kelley, u portraying the young girl as equal parts crafty and oddly naïve, her measured performance giving nothing away. As contradictory evidence begins to mount on both sides, Liar, Liar, like its chief protagonists, holds its cards close to its chest, building to a climax that illuminates both the inner logic of the Farrow household and the darkest corners of family life.

Although just as entertaining, I’ll Never Get to Heaven is less visceral. As in Liar, Liar, a father sets the action in motion—he deserts his wife and two daughters. But in this case, 13-year-old Margaret Stewart (Amy Stewart), the older of the two girls, turns to the church for a solution. In the opening scene, she pleads with Jesus to stall the engine of her fleeing father’s car. But as Kathleen M. Turner’s sympathetic and often whimsical script unfolds, the girl finds as many

questions as answers in her Catholic faith.

Less devout are Amy’s next-door neighbors: a young woman named Betty (Aidan Pendleton), who flouts the catechism as proudly as she pads her bra, and Betty’s free-spirited Aunt Dora, portrayed with gusto by Susan Wright in her last film before her death in December, 1991. A modern-day Mary Magdalene, Aunt Dora is “as cheap as Woolworth’s,” according to one of Amy’s friends. But she is also decidedly happy and, like Betty, offers a glimpse of freedom from some of the more guilt-provoking strictures of church doctrine.

Amy is able to balance her faith with Betty’s and Aunt Dora’s impiety—until a handsome stranger named Eric Hoskins (Victor Garber) begins to court her mother Cassie (Wendy Crewson), tempting the woman to reject the church’s rule against divorce. Wracked by shame, Amy goes out of her way to win the respect of the most straitlaced girls in her Catholic school. Among them is the shrewish Lorraine, portrayed with delightful hyperbole by Valentina Cardinally

The story is painted in broad, often blackand-white, strokes. Each modern-thinking nun is counterbalanced by an impossibly pious one, and strict Catholic families live next to colorful heathens. But the drama is never heavy-handed. Indeed, I’ll Never Get to Heaven evokes an ostensibly simpler time, when social rules at least appeared to be more cut-and-dried. And, like Liar, Liar, its dramatic resolution vividly conveys both the tears and the laughter that are part of growing up anywhere and anytime.

VICTOR DWYER