The Russell Girl (2008)
Hallmark Hall of Fame has produced well over two hundred films. Among them, there are comedies, dramas and even some period films. Most have been really good and some could even be called superb, but there have been those rare few of distasteful additions. The Russell Girl falls among the better films.
She had almost lost hope. Until she returned home. Sarah Russell (Amber Tamblyn) is a small town girl who left after high school without looking back, and now lives in the city of Chicago working as a buyer for mega retail store. After experiencing some health problems she learns she has a rapidly progressing form of Leukemia. Shocked, she decides to go home in order to break the news to her parents (Henry Czerny, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio). Once there she reconnects with her neighbor (Jennifer Ehle) with whom she has a tragic past.
As Sarah eases back into her once carefree life, Sarah finds it difficult to tell them what she is really doing back. Little does Sarah realize that her ally may be the one woman who’s carried a grudge against her all these years.
The two-hour story that unfolds is heart wrenching but the message is ultimately about learning to accept ones past and future rather than living in and being ruled by their painful past. For several years, my family has watched these productions and believe me, we have seen a number of “off” films among the ones we’ve watched. While this may not go down as a classic, it has become one of my favorites in this series. Perhaps it’s the story of forgiveness when Sarah felt all hope was gone, the characters or the unique perspective behind the camera in telling the story that connects the audience to the fictional tale, whatever The Russell Girl deserves a second look.
Amber Tamblyn is probably best known for her teen roles such as Joan of Arc. I must confess though my first (and only) introduction to her was in the 2005 Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. After reading an article on this film, Amber remarked on being ready to move to more mature roles and this was a start. She does well in the role; she conveys a realistic picture of an ailing young woman, and really seems to embody her character. Another big attention grabber was Jennifer Ehle in a supporting role. Jennifer is, of course from A&E's Pride and Prejudice. Her emotional performance is heartbreaking but phenomenal. (Also not to be missed amidst the strong female leads is Paul Wesley, star of a popular CW series and Tim DeKay from White Collar.)
There's a lot of beauty within this, the story of a woman burdened by her past, and consequently effecting her present. Because of these things, Sarah couldn’t forgive herself without benefit of help; she pushed those who cared about her the most away. She adopts the philosophy that bad things happen to “bad people” as punishment. Surprisingly my favorite scenes come between Sarah and Lorraine, and the quietly tender moments Sarah shares with her high school boyfriend. Most of the scenes are touching and the performances very good (like, the scenes of Lorraine pushing Sarah to tell the truth are not lost on the audience as we “get” the significance in those moments).
Despite all the stories impact, this isn’t without some humor, which we need in order to balance out the more overwrought moments. While the production isn’t Christian, and no one ever references turning to God for forgiveness some of the lines are still profound and deserve some thought. We deal with a woman wondering what has kept her husband by her side; a young woman’s journey to discovering blessings; and the hope that comes with the simple words “I forgive you.” If you’re looking for something that actually has a plot plus good performances, check out The Russell Girl. Just be ready to shed some tears.
CONTENT: Rated TVPG, the most disturbing is some mature thematic elements. There is the issue of Sarah’s illness and a scene in which a small child falls down a stairway [off-camera]. A girl lies to her family about the life she is leading. There is an accident on a freeway, ambulances, medical workers and injured people are shown, but never graphically depicted; emergency workers show up at a house following an accident.