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DVD Review: Son-Rise: A Miracle of Love

The Humanitas Award-winning drama about childhood autism is finally released on DVD, but it's 'a wasted exercise.'

 

From MGM’s DVD-on-demand project, the somber made-for-TV melodrama Son-Rise: A Miracle of Love is now available on a no-frills, standardized disc for the pleasure of your perusal. Despite an occasional moment of juicy high melodrama, Son-Rise is unfortunately no match for elegant messes of unintentionally mind-bending televised burlesque like MGM’s previously issued Portrait of an Escort, or more recently premiered slices of filigreed angst like Lifetime’s Girl Fight and Bling Ring.

James Farentino and Kathryn Harrold play Suzi and Barry Kaufman, fictionalized counterparts of the real-life couple whose two-year-old son, Raun, was diagnosed with autism in the late 1960s. As Barry and Suzi soon discover to their horror and chagrin, autism at that time was such a diffuse and baffling diagnosis that available treatment options nationwide were incredibly limited and inadequate, ranging from the bizarrely experimental to the barbaric. Even the most ambitious treatments offer little or no hope of real progress beyond the mastery of a few simple motor commands. Determined not to give up on Raun, Suzi and Barry embark intuitively on a radical program of treatment they devise themselves, exhaustively observing and documenting their son’s behavior and responses to various stimuli, and working tirelessly to establish a meaningful and consistent way of communicating with him, and allowing him to interact with his environment.

Son-Rise is based on a nonfiction chronicle of the same title, and the disc cover trumpets the adaptation as “award-winning,” but unfortunately, aside from its emotionally swollen, declaratively saccharine approach to the material, the movie just doesn’t contain enough persuasively cinematic moments to achieve any real dramatic power. A written nonfiction treatment exhaustively cataloguing minute changes in the behavior of a child acting out meaningless, repetitive compulsions such as plate twirling could easily be riveting, but an onscreen treatment requires a much boldly experimental approach to achieve a similar effect. Son-Rise, tragically, is not up to this challenge, and becomes mired in an oddly apropos repetitive cycle of flatly overplayed melodramatic moments and bland documentary tedium.

Like all of MGM’s DVD-on-demand titles, Son-Rise is presented without special features and with timed chapter stops unrelated to the onscreen action. In this case the lack of augmentation is probably deserved, although it also seems slightly incongruous since the allegedly award-winning movie smacks of something that was produced specifically to be shown in classrooms or for informational purposes. Aside from its self-important educational value, the film is a wasted exercise, both as legitimate drama and as unintentional kitsch.