Jacquelyn Mitchard's novel Deep End Of The Ocean topped the bestseller list in the States for a year after its publication in June '96. It attracted a strong celebrity following, including Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Pfeiffer; the latter liked it so much she decided to co-produce under the guise of her film-making outfit Via Rosa. It's easy to see why Mitchard's novel, with its strong themes of motherhood and loss, attracted such stellar attention. But what's harder to understand is how the result could be this lacklustre.
Some blame must fall at the feet of director Ulu Grosbard, whose big-screen CV has remained remarkably blank after an auspicious debut in 1968 (The Subject Was Rose) and a couple of slightly flat star vehicles in the late '70s/early '80s (Straight Time with Dustin Hoffman and True Confessions starring Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall).
Here he directs his talented cast in a manner that manages to halt the story's momentum. Whoopi Goldberg's character is reduced to a cipher, popping up occasionally to whisper greeting-card phrases of advice and throwing in the fact that she's a lesbian at a random moment to give a hint of character development. Williams is given little to do except bluster, and even Pfeiffer only hints at the depths of her character.
The lush cinematography (Chicago never looked so wholesome), set against this bland direction, only adds to the effect of creating the worst kind of glossy TV movie. All emotion and drama is drained from the screen, despite the valiant attempts of the cast, particularly the young actors (Merriman and Jackson) playing Beth's sons. In fact early on it becomes evident that, without Pfeiffer - and despite the novel's popularity - this film would sink without trace, sucked under the ocean in a slick of syrup, hopefully to remain at the deep end for all eternity.