A Holiday Flick to Believe In

Take a career woman's mid-life schizophrenic episode,
mix in a little holiday fluff, and you've got If You Believe, an original
movie that debuts on Lifetime next month.

This being the 1990s, instead of an angel arriving to
refresh the values of Susan Stone (Ally Walker, late of broadcast's The Profiler),
the lead character's alter ego splits off, in the form of herself as a child, and
basically nags her back to mental health.

Stone is a 30-ish book editor who is fending off any
opportunity for happiness with both hands. Her adult-life attempts to be what her mate or
her bosses want to be, instead of who she is -- or at least once was have caused
personality paralysis.

The film begins smashingly with the camera circling around
the dysfunctional family table: 7-year-old Susan is pelted with peas by her brother, then
filled with righteous indignation when she's the one sent away. In her teens,
Susan's opinions on politics are squashed; in her 20s, she's criticized for
hiding her background from her more-prosperous college sorority sisters; and in her
mid-20s, her opinions are demeaned by a pompous husband.

The film makes one understand how an adult could reach out
and crush a child, as Susan does at the contemporaneous holiday dinner. She commits the
sin of demystifying Santa for a niece's "own good."

From there, the film loses its creative individuality and
borrows its themes from both It's aWonderful Life and A Christmas
. Scrooge-like Susan grumbles into the office the day after Thanksgiving and
tries to draw in her Bob Cratchett-like assistant Robin (Meredith McGeachie). She heads
for home after dark, slips on the ice, bumps her head and the split begins. She's
bedeviled by 7-year-old-Suzie, a nudge in a red-velvet party dress.

Predictably, the other self gets her to take chances and
reconnect with the parts of life that are enjoyable, like opera. That doesn't help
the fact that she's about to lose her job for non-productivity, but in true movie
fashion, a potential bestseller miraculously presents itself. Susan rejects it, but Suzie
convinces her adult self to go after both the book and its author.

The cast is admirable, especially mini-Suzie, played by
Hayden Panettiere. The child actor spits out a prodigious amount of very adult dialog at
an amazing pace. Sometimes it seems like she's all speechifying -- but you end up
wanting a childhood friend of your own.

If You Believe airs on Lifetime at 9 p.m. on Dec. 6