Film & Television

TV Review: Joan Allen, at the Center of ‘The Family’

fmy_keyart_premiere_exclusive2433Someone once told me that having a child is the bravest thing a person can do.

Maybe that’s why so much has been made (here at Women’s Voices for Change and elsewhere) about last year’s remarkable movie Room. Intense young actress Brie Larson won critical raves, as well as an Academy Award, for her role as a young mother surviving the unimaginable. But, within the movie, there’s another mother’s story as well. While Larson’s character was being held captive, her own mother was living through every parent’s worst nightmare: the disappearance of her child. And while the part was considerably smaller, actress Joan Allen’s portrayal was impossible to forget.

Allen, who will turn 60 this year, has had an impressive career, on stage and on screen, for nearly four decades. She received a Tony Award for her 1988 Broadway debut in Burn This, and three Academy Award Nominations for Nixon (1995), The Crucible (1996), and The Contender (2000). One of my favorite of her many memorable performances was as Elena Hood, wife of cheating husband Kevin Kline and hesitant key party participant, in The Ice Storm. Her work is rarely anything less than excellent.

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When asked about roles she’s had, Allen once said, “I think the people who cast films tend to think of me in regard to strong women with integrity and a lot of it has been very good.” Her résumé certainly supports this. As she’s gotten older though, like so many actresses, Allen has seen her opportunities dwindle. She described her most recent offers to Entertainment Weekly this way:

“’Oh, you can be the mother of the kid who’s going off on the adventure.’ That’s not being part of the fabric of the story; [you’re] a bookend, in a way. With fewer independent films or middle-of-the-road films being made — they used to make a lot of films for $15 and $20 million — [quality roles] are farther and fewer between these days, and there’s just not the opportunity . . . The industry has changed.”

Rather than accept “bookend” roles, Allen has taken on a central character in the new ABC drama The Family. Here, she again plays the mother of a missing child, but in a weekly series with a very different focus.

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The show takes place ten years after young Adam Warren was abducted and presumed murdered. His family, although changed forever, has moved on. His mother Claire (Allen) pursued a career in local politics and is about to announce her candidacy for governor, running on a rigid anti-crime platform. His father John (Rupert Graves) is a celebrated author and speaker, having published bestsellers on overcoming grief. His older siblings, who feel some responsibility for his disappearance, have dealt with it in their own extreme ways: sister Willa (Alison Pill) is a religious workaholic; brother Danny (Zach Gilford) is an alcoholic ne’er-do-well. Meanwhile, police detective Nina Meyer (Margot Bingham), who as a rookie coerced a confession out of Warren neighbor, sex offender, and general creepy guy Hank Asher (Andrew McCarthy), has remained obsessed with the case even to the extent of having an affair with the bereaved dad.

A little hard to follow, I know. But, stay with me. Read More »

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