Tyne Daly is Ann Thomas, an aging, working-class single parent in the grip of a medical crisis. At her request, her three adult daughters (Ally Sheedy, Marceline Hugot and Marla Sucharetza) set out to look for the privileged younger brother they've never really known (Davidlee Wilson, who also wrote the original screenplay), and the father they've been raised to believe abandoned them. It's a "fish out of water" set-up, and for much of its running time, "The Autumn Heart" plays like a variation on a class-conscious, Depression-era screwball comedy.
Raised in the blue-collar environs of Medford, Mass., the Thomas girls are the proverbial strangers in a strange land in the affluent, Harvard-educated world their father and younger brother inhabit. A great deal of humor comes from the resulting culture clash, particularly at the hands of Hugot and Sucharetza, the comedic foils to Sheedy's now-patented neurotic victim shtick.
But despite the perhaps too neat comedic algebra of its plotline, "The Autumn Heart" largely avoids the pro forma slobs vs. snobs stereotyping that would have made it a lesser film. Director Steven Maler and writer/co-star Davidlee Wilson have a sincere interest in their creations, coupled with a fine ear for the rhythms of realistic conversation, and the primal themes of separation, loss and forgiveness "The Autumn Heart" deals in acquire cumulative force as a result.
Though overlooked by both distributors and festival jurors during its 1999 Sundance run, "The Autumn Heart" was easily one of the more audience-ready features to debut at Park City that year. Handled properly by the right distribution house, this "chick flick" with uncommon depth of characterization should find a place in all but the most autumnal of hearts. Starring Tyne Daly, Ally Sheedy, Marceline Hugot, Marla Sucharetza and Davidlee Wilson. Directed by Steven Maler. Written by Davidlee Wilson. Produced by Kelly McMahon. Drama. An Arrow release. Unrated. Running time: 105 min.