Buried Credits, a column that deep dives into the IMDB pages of favorite actors, directors, and writers to find their lost, forgotten, or unknown film and TV credits, continues this week with works featuring Keri Russell.
When Innocence Is Lost (1997)
Written by Deborah Jones
Directed by Bethany Rooney
If the title doesn’t spill the beans (it’s a bad title), When Innocence Is Lost is a Lifetime movie based on Jennifer Ireland’s 1994 custody case in Michigan (the film changes her name to Erica French). Erica (Russell) had Molly when she was in high school and planned to give her up for adoption. It’s what her parents encourage and the baby’s father, Scott (Vincent Corazza), doesn’t blink before signing the paperwork. From the moment she turns down holding the baby after labor, Erica struggles with this decision and finally backs out altogether, to raise the child with the help of her mom (Jill Clayburgh) and little sister, Annie (an unsung Charlotte Sullivan).
The script is on the clunky side and the film is a little too eager to throw Scott under the bus. It’s not like anyone was going to doubt his sleaziness. It’s the presentation, with metaphorical, mustache twirling dialogue to paint his villainy, that’s thick. From his first major line, about how he knew this would happen [Erica would keep the baby] if she didn’t have an abortion, there is no attempt at neutrality (and he comes out looking perfectly dodgy objectively or subjectively).
The problems begin after a random bump in at the mall, about a year after Molly’s birth. Until then Scott had no qualms declining Erica’s attempts to include him in his daughter’s life. You would never know the couple were once in love, but Erica alone remembers that. Child support is a concept Scott proves incapable of understanding (the money goes to your kid, idiot). Yet when he and his parents see Molly for themselves, they suddenly realize she’s cute. When Erica has the nerve to want to go to Cornell on a scholarship, with Molly in tow, suddenly he gets possessive. A full time student won’t be able to be the mom to his child that his own mom would be (yeah, Scott never actually says he’ll be take care of her himself). This is how Erica’s mom expected Erica to react when she kept Molly, passing off all the work. It’s why their ongoing feuding throughout the movie bugs me. Erica never abandons her responsibility. Scott does.
With Erica’s use of day care “strangers” to watch Molly during class the justification for a court case, When Innocence Is Lost opens up an important discussion about the obstacles against the modern women. Again, Innocence likes to be on the nose, so Erica holds up a magazine at one point and says she wants to do it all. She’s a 90’s woman. Still, I found myself wanting to give these indulging snippets a pass, like how many of the day care scenes feel staged to deliver information, or Erica’s new boyfriend, Kevin (Kris Holden-Reid), seems too good to be true. His inclusion is too charming to be annoying.
Beyond all having the curly hair to resemble mom, the child actors who play Molly at different ages inspire some great in-the-moment acting from their scene partners. You believe Keri Russell is Molly’s mom. When she hears Molly recite the alphabet for the first time, or stubbornly works to open a door, while carrying too many bags, you can recognize these scenes and Russell’s reactions. Without having to include any pre-pregnancy flashbacks, of Erica’s wild teenage years, Russell makes you sense how much her character has changed, almost automatically, by motherhood. Her strength makes you forget age, until vulnerable, grasping attempts, to excuse Scott’s behavior, take you back. The thought of mother and daughter being separated, after these performances, is unimaginable.
Verdict: Buried Treasure
The script is rough and Scott’s physical abuse of Erica needed to be addressed more. The film includes scenes of him manhandling her but Erica never tells an adult or reports the assaults to authorities. In real life, Jennifer did. I know biopics like these can be looser about facts but, in a message movie about women’s rights, some mention of these legal actions should’ve been made, instead of using domestic abuse for heightened drama. A stepping stone on Keri Russell’s path to playing a protective mom on The Americans, Jennifer Ireland’s trial remains important today. It’s upsetting that her fitness to be a mother and a student was ever up for debate. I don’t know that, in 2016, this fight is concluded enough.
Check back tomorrow for Keri Russell’s turn as a mom in search of a cure.