In preparation for the final heat of the presidential-election season, voters interested in intelligent decision-making should take the time to watch An American Daughter, a cinematic version of the Wendy Wasserstein stage play, on Lifetime Television.
Brilliantly written with a killer cast, it should make anyone sit down and think hard about the media's impact on those in the public eye and whether our attention is being misdirected from issues of importance.
Christine Lahti stars as Lyssa Dent Hughes: mother, doctor, descendent of Ulysses S. Grant. She appears to have it all, and she's about to get more. She's been nominated (third choice, but who's counting?) to become surgeon general. Lyssa got where she is by being who she is, and she quickly finds out that she can go no further unless she finds someone to pretend to be.
Her downfall begins with a seemingly benign comment by her husband, Walter (Tom Skerrit). He says Lyssa's so busy being a wife and mother that she's never served jury duty. She also misplaced a summons once. Well-meaning friends serve to help the media archers, rather than shifting their aim.
Media scrutiny amplifies every imperfection in Lyssa's life, including the flaws of her friends. These subplots unfurl like a ripening flower.
Her funny, accomplished friend, Judy (Lynne Thigpen, reprising her Tony-winning role), is actually a woman tortured by infertility. "I can't make life and I can't stop death" sums up the feelings of this oncologist.
The desire of a gay friend (Mark Feurerstein) to succeed, to always have "the right answer," keeps the critical fires roaring. Walter's infidelity, tolerable during better times, becomes like salt in an open wound.
But perhaps the most pernicious character is Quincy Quince (Blake Lindsley), a self-professed new feminist. She mouths platitudes about the victimization of women expected to do it all, while wearing painted-on pants and seducing Walter. She says she supports Lyssa, yet in the next breath says, "I can't find her soul."
Jay Thomas, who plays the journalist most responsible for the media meltdown, accomplishes a major feat. One finds oneself liking his character even as he charms Lyssa into new situations where he can attack her.
In the end, Lyssa can only be grateful she's been broken, but not shattered-broken heals faster.
An American Daughter is one of the best films you'll find on television this year. It debuts on Lifetime tonight (June 5) at 9 p.m.
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