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. Hope for the future. Hope for reconciliation. Hope for forgiveness – until she returned home. Sarah Russell (Amber Tamblyn) is a small town girl who left after high school and now lives in the city of Chicago working as a buyer for mega retail store Macy’s. After experiencing some health problems she sees a doctor and learns she has a quickly progressing form of Leukemia. Shocked and alone, 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. When Lorraine learns that the “Russell girl” is back, she relapses into her depression resulting from a past she can’t – or won’t forgive Sarah for, causing Sarah to blame herself for years of guilt.
As Sarah eases back into her once carefree life, she learns that she has been accepted into medical school, something she has worked hard for and makes her parents proud. Being home makes it hard to tell them what she is really doing back, and she lets them believe it’s just for an overdue visits. 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 seeing the characters aspiring to look their future in the eye, learning to accept it rather than living in 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. Whether it is Brush with Fate, Riding the Bus with my Sister or Old Man, there has been a certain percentage not worthy (in my opinion) of being included in this Hall of Fame collection compared to some of the classic stories Hallmark has brought to life. 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 look.
Amber Tamblyn is probably best known for her teen roles that are considered more family friendly 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 some more mature roles and that this was a start. She does well in the role and manages an “adult” role well; she conveys a realistic picture of an ailing young woman, and really seems to embody her character. Another big attention grabber of this movie for me was Jennifer Ehle in a supporting role. Jennifer is, of course from the miniseries Pride and Prejudice. Her emotional performance as a mother and wife who seemed to forget what she did still have 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!) The point of this film is the story of a woman who felt she caused a tragic event in her past that seemingly broke her neighbor’s ability to “live” and consequently ruined whatever relationship she had with them. Because of that, Sarah couldn’t forgive herself and wanted to make it on her own; she pushed those who cared about her the most away. She remarks that since the accident of six years ago she’s just been waiting for the other shoe to drop and wonders if things happen to “bad people” in punishment. Surprisingly my favorite scenes come between Sarah and Lorraine, and Sarah the quietly tender moments she shares with her high school boyfriend. Most of the scenes are touching and the performances very good – such scenes of Lorraine pushing Sarah to tell the truth are not lost on the audience as we “get” the significance in those moments.
Nearer the end, we are emotionally enlightened as to what occurs, it was unexpected to see how Sarah’s illness comes out, but was really well done. 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 at all, 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 realizing how blessed she is, and the hope that comes with the simple words “I forgive you.” Jesus came and died on the cross for all our sins and it is truly an amazing thing when one ponders what the power of forgiveness can do – and has, in fact already accomplished. If you’re looking for something that actually has a plot and a nice message, plus good performances, check out The Russell Girl. Just be ready to shed some tears.
(What to know: 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.)