If These Walls Could Talk: Anthology (3 Parts), Directed by Nancy Savoca and Cher

Part 1: 1952

Directed, written by Nancy Savoca, based on a story by Pamela Wallace, Earl Wallace, and Savoca. Camera (color), Ellen Kuras.
Claire………Demi Moore
Becky….Catherine Keener
Kevin……..Jason London
Mary…….Shirley Knight
Dr. Kramer…Kevin Cooney
Jenny………CCH Pounder

With Robin Gammell, Phyllis Lyons, Aaron Lusting, Dena Burton.

Part 2: 1974

Directed by Nancy Savoca. Teleplay, Susan Manus, Savoca. Camera (color), Bobby Bukowski.
Barbara…Sissy Spacek
John…Xander Berkeley
Julia…Joanna Gleason
With: Hedy Burress, Janna Michaels, Ian Bohen, Zack Eginton, Harris Yulin and others.

Part 3: 1996

Directed by Cher. Teleplay by I. Marlene King and Nancy Savoca, based on King’s story.

Christine…Sissy Spacek
Patti…….Jada Pinkett
Dr. Beth Thompson…Cher
Marcia…..Diana Scarwid
Frances…Lindsay Crouse
With Lorraine Toussaint, Rita Wilson, Eileen Brennan, Craig T. Nelson and others

There’s little art and not much entertainment either in HBO’s earnestly didactic If These Walls Could Talk, a trilogy about three American women and their different ways of dealing with unexpected pregnancies. Spanning four decades, from the l950s to the present, this high-profile HBO teleplay, produced by Demi Moore’s company and co-directed by Nancy Savoca and Cher (in her filmmaking debut), should be embraced by female viewers, though the message delivered is so broadly and blatantly stated that it’s unlikely to stir any provocation or controversy. HBO NYC, a new movie division, will air the show throughout October, and timely issue and recognizable cast should warrantee satisfactory results for the later video version.

In the first and weakest segment, which is set in l952, Demi Moore plays Claire, a young, recently widowed nurse, who suddenly realizes she’s pregnant. Through flashbacks, it’s revealed that the baby’s father is no other than her brother-in-law who, during a late night visit to console her, apparently lost control.

Most of the characters in this tale, male and female, don’t so much converse as serve as mouthpieces for slogans and platforms. Hence, when Claire seeks help from a doctor (Kevin Cooney) at her hospital, she’s harshly rebuffed because abortion is illegal. The pregnancy is considered her fault and thus her problem.

Set in 1974, the second and most interesting episode centers on Barbara (Sissy Spacek), a happily married mother of four, who’s decided to return to college to get her degree. Her efforts to balance an exciting academic schedule with an orderly family life are shattered when she finds out her pregnancy test is positive.

The appealing protagonist of the final story, which occurs at present, is Christine (Anne Heche), who’s having an illicit affair with her married architecture professor (Craig T. Nelson). When she gets pregnant by him, he gives her the money for an abortion, but her roommate Patti (Jada Pinkett), who’s morally opposed to the very idea of abortion, tries to discourage her. The bloody (in more senses than one) climax takes place at a family planning clinic, run by a trio of sympathetic women, the mature Dr. Beth Thompson (Cher), bright clinic escort Frances (Lindsay Crouse) and sensitive counsellor Marcia (Diana Scarwid).

Beginning with the bombastic, unsubtle title, everything in the anthology is too schematic and pedagogic, more befitting a lecture than a supposedly entertaining show. The three women live in the same house, though in different decades. But despite a rapidly changing climate, all three are confronted with the same dilemma: Each must decide what to do about her unplanned pregnancy. Moore and her producer should be commended for choosing a problematic, socially relevant issue, but the treatment that it gets, particularly the insistent moralizing, is disappointing, for ultimately the stories are more about women’s freedom of choice than about abortion per se.

Not surprisingly, two of the stories end tragically, and the final, contempo segment is the most violent, which may be an accurate reflection of the zeitgeist. Overall, the anthology tries (too) hard to get its message across, which means its sensibility is not only edifying but decidedly middle-brow. Who in l996 in his/her right mind will disagree with the stories’ motto that women need to exercise greater control over their choices.

All three episodes are more sensitively staged than scripted, and Cher shows promise as a good director of actors. The sheer chance of watching two dozen of the most interesting actresses in the American cinema today is rewarding in its own right. The terrific cast includes, in addition to those aforementioned: Cathleen Keener, CCH Pounder, Joanna Gleason, Shirley Knight, Jada Pinkett, Eileen Brennan, Rita Wilson and others.

Tech credits in most departments, particularly lensing (by Ellen Kuras, Bobby Bukowski and John Stanier, respectively), are serviceable, though Cliff Eidelman’s insistent score is used too simplistically to create the “right” emotional reactions.