February 4, 2017

Something About Amelia (1984)
Grade: 65/100

Director: Randa Haines
Stars: Ted Danson, Roxana Zal, Glenn Close

What it's about. The Bennett family seems like any other in white suburbia. Ted Danson is a businessman, married to Glenn Close. Their marriage isn't exactly happy, but it survives. They have two daughters, somnolent Amelia (Roxana Zal), who is 13, and the more energetic Beth (Melissa Francis), about 11.

Danson sure seems to value his quality time with Amelia, but the feeling isn't mutual. The glum Amelia finally lets her secret slip to school counselor Jane Kaczmarek: her father has been "messing with her." In the Biblical sense.

Soon, kindly but firm social worker Olivia Cole has arranged for a judge to send Ted Danson packing to the local Motel 6. Amelia returns home to recriminations, but eventually everyone realizes Danson is the bad guy, no matter how convincing his Alfred E. Newman impersonation. Everyone sees court-appointed psychiatrist Kevin Conway, and somehow it all works out. Danson even promises not to refer to Amelia as "Princess".

How others will see it. Something About Amelia was notorious in its day, but its eight Emmy nominations (three wins) and four Golden Globe nods (two wins) have long since been forgotten, as has the film itself. It has just 363 user votes at imdb.com, presumably since only that many viewers could finish the icky tearjerker. The user ratings are 7.1 out of 10, hardly commensurate with the trophies it took home.

Women over 45, the most reliable demographic, do grade it a somewhat higher 7.5. If the ending isn't happy, it is at least about as happy as it could be, unless you would have preferred to see Ted Danson locked in the same jail cell as Hannibal Lecter.

How I felt about it. There's something surreal about this movie, and it has to do with the third-century that has passed since it was first televised. Today, in an era of lifetime online sex offender registry lists, Ted Danson would be arrested the same day Amelia revealed her dark secret to the school psychologist, and would soon be serving time in the state pen. It seems beyond all possibility that the family would remain intact, with vulnerable Amelia still living in the same three-bedroom house as her father.

One has to wonder about Ted Danson's motivation to make this movie. He's pulling down huge bucks as the star of "Cheers", so he doesn't need the money. Why not let somebody else play the molester of his 13-year-old daughter. Danson plays the role with cognitive dissonance, wearing his deer-in-the-headlights face as he pretends that his entire life isn't crashing down on top of him.

And sure enough, he gets away with it. He even keeps his joyless wife and his equally joyless older daughter. Though future camping trips alone are out.

Glenn Close was an A-list actress during the 1980s, and she delivers here. Still, you can almost see her shaking her head as she read the script, and learned that character would not divorce the man who cheated on her with her own daughter, beginning when she was six years younger than the age of consent. It would be more likely that Close's character would bash Danson over the head with a baseball bat, no doubt with Danson retaining his deer-in-headlights bewildered face until the end.

And yet, weird as this movie is, and as much as it remains the answer to a trivia question concerning Ted Danson, it all seems like it could have happened. Which is the point that the filmmakers are trying to make. The court-appointed shrink (Kevin Conway) says it happens in hundreds of thousands of families, which seems too high to me, given that Leavenworth isn't a rung up the career ladder. But it certainly happens in all too many, even in those that are seemingly ordinary.