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Based on a true story about a blind couple who seek to become parents and end up as foster parents is quite inspiring for those infertile, disadvantaged couples out there. As usual, Winningham and her co-star Keith Carradine turn in winning performances as the married couple. The eye of the sparrow was one of those television movies that left an impact on me that two people despite their handicap can love, feel, and want to be parents like everybody else. As foster parents, they become better parents to those abandoned or forgotten by their birth parents. Still parenthood is something that the couple adjust to their situation by being terrific foster parents.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
***SPOILERS*** ***SPOILERS*** This TVM is based on the (presumably true) lives of Ethel and James Lee, a blind couple who were the first to legally adopt children in America. What distinguishes the teleplay by Barbara Turner is her presentation of the couple played by Mare Winningham and Keith Carradine as individuals, in spite of being blind. Often writers are tempted to make martyrs of those living with handicaps, in the "testament to the human spirit" nauseating genre, but Turner avoids that sanctimoniousness. These people are extraordinary and not just for being blind. Since the narrative begins with Ethel Lee as a child, Turner's focus is more on Winningham, than Carradine, and Winningham gives her Ethel a subtle eccentricity. Winningham soars over her "I'm playing a blind person" business, something which Carradine with his more passive persona is less a success at, since it's hard to catch him "acting" in other roles anyway. Turner occasionally slips in some semantic goofs like "Let's see" and "I'm looking forward to" but perhaps one's antennae is as attuned to these as much as one waits for either of the couple to fall over something. The idea that the child Ethel should be taken from her po' white trash home to a school for the blind also seems unnecessary since her blind child is so remarkeably accomplished and domesticated. She makes Patty Duke's Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker look positively insane. I was actually glad when Winningham took over from the child playing Ethel since the little girl gets to sing the title song in an uninspired "heroic" moment. Ethel's temporary adult sightedness is left unexplained, particularly when the period is definitely pre-laser surgery, though it's probably just as well her blindness returned since the glasses she wore for sight are so unattractive. Director John Korty scores an unintentional laugh when she wears those ugly frames under her wedding veil. Korty's montage of Ethel performing practical household chores for the education of social workers who are assessing her suitability for adoption, to an idiot soundtrack so that we get that Ethel is being patronised, negates a sighted person's natural curiousity about how a blind person manages, and is later paralled with a demonstration of chores that only the Lee's sighted friends seem able to do - the hanging of curtains and paintings on the wall. When we see Ethel speaking into a tape recorder it is only later that we realise that this is the way she "writes a letter". When the Lee's are finally allowed to be adoptive parents they are used by agencies for short term placements, as a judgement of prejudice, as well as providing a definition of the unwanted children as "garbage", though these short term placements help to convince the authorities of the Lee's capability. Since Ethel came from a family of 11 children, she has the common sense to deal with someone "difficult" and Winningham has a scene where her spanking a child turns to an embrace, revealing her maternal instinct. The kinds of children that the Lees accept reminded me of Mia Farrow, though they were made legal parents in 1969, I think before Farrow began to collect her brood. Mention is made of Conchata Ferrell as a social worker who becomes their greatest defender against the adoptive beaurocracy. And Turner ends the treatment on a clever note.
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