An accurate representation of a controversial case...
I watched this film for the first time in June 2001, towards the end of my senior year of high school for my Child Development class. After seeing this movie, I did some research on the "Baby M" case, and this movie is about as accurate as it gets. While most true-account films tend to stray from the real story, this one was taken directly from the court records of Ocean County Courthouse, Toms River, Ocean County, New Jersey.
This made-for-TV film is about a couple, William and Elizabeth Stern, a New York City couple who cannot conceive a child, and consult an organizationfor surrogate parents. They soon meet Mary Beth and Rick Whitehead, a Brick Township, Ocean County, New Jersey family with two pre-teen children, Tuesday and Ryan. Mary Beth agrees to carry the Sterns' child and will accept $10,000 in exchange for the baby. Mary Beth assumes she can easily give up the baby, but it becomes impossible for her to let go of the child she names "Sarah," even though the Strerns name her "Melissa." Legal battles ensue over the infant and who she really belongs to.
The reason my teacher showed my class this film was because this case happened to take place close to home for us. I have been living in Ocean County, New Jersey since 1985, and this film took place close to home. Toms River is about 40 minutes from me, and Brick is another 10-15 minutes away from there. The film was shot almost entirely on location in Ocean County, and the trial takes place at our county courthouse. I was living in a town about 20 minutes from Toms River (Lacey Township) at the time this case was happening, so it's almost a given to know about this case, as it is one of the most remembered cases in recent years that I can recall happening so close to home.
The acting in this film was superb, and this movie was extremely upsetting. However, it was also excellent in showing how much goes into a custody trial. It is probably one of the better made-for-TV movies I have seen, and I'm certainly glad I saw it in class. I highly recommend this to anyone if you can possibly find it. This is a heartwarming and toucig story of love for a child, or love that went too far.
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