Little Girl Lost: The Delimar Vera Story

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Airdate: 8-10 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 17 (Lifetime Movie Network).

Even by Lifetime standards, the original telepic "Little Girl Lost: The Delimar Vera Story" (which actually premieres on the companion Lifetime Movie Network) is wrenching, heavy-duty stuff that largely honors a real-life tale with earnestness and realism.

Mostly, anyway. It invariably succumbs to heartstring tugging during the final half-hour, but by then we're pretty much hopelessly hooked even though we know where this is heading from the get-go. I mean, they don't do movies about mothers who don't get their stolen daughters back in the end -- at least ones that get financed. But while this one degenerates into tidy simplicity during the denouement, it successfully holds you in its thrall as something of a, well, cautionary tale. The warning would evidently be something like this: Don't put your in trust distant cousins with an arson past.

Got it.

The film is bolstered by surprisingly effective performances by a couple of actresses whom we wouldn't necessarily associate with drama given their highest-profile roles. Judy Reyes, the sassy nurse Carla from the NBC comedy "Scrubs," and Ana Ortiz, the mouthy big sister on ABC's "Ugly Betty," show some impressive dramatic chops here in performances that serve up nary an ounce of comedy. Reyes is Luz Cuevas, a working-class Philadelphia mom with two boys and a loving husband (Hector Luis Bustamante) whose world is turned upside-down (not to mention inside-out) when their infant daughter, Delimar, is presumed killed in a devastating fire at their home.

When Luz suspects that her baby is in fact alive, having disappeared prior to the fire, she's dismissed as nutty, of course. It costs her her marriage and her sanity. But she never gives up the fight, believing that her distant cousin Valerie (Ortiz) snatched the girl and started the fire to cover her tracks. A six-year test of heart, soul and persistence ensues, with a sympathetic politician (A Martinez) coming to her aid and ultimately proving to be the dedicated angel she's been looking for. But what isn't always clear in the teleplay from Christopher Canaan and Maria Nation is that it's when this war is won that the real battle begins, the one to convince a confused, devastated 6-year-old girl that her mommy isn't really her mommy and that she'll now be living with these strangers until she's an adult. Oh, and by the way kid, you have a different name now, too.

There is a cursory attempt to deal with the emotional fallout at the conclusion, but it's all supposed to be fixed with a lengthy hug, which doesn't really ring true. The other issue that doesn't quite resonate is the fact that this isn't generally the way these situations play out in the real world. Mothers who suspect that their daughter was stolen are typically merely paranoid and in denial. It's hoped that what goes down in "Little Girl Lost" doesn't spark a rash of women claiming bogus parentage. But again, beyond that, the film is powerful and genuine and bolstered by some exceptional work from Reyes, Ortiz and really the entire cast.

Production: Lifetime in association with TF-1 International. Executive producers: Paul A. Kaufman, Harvey Kahn, Joey Plager, Larry Thompson. Writers: Christopher Canaan, Maria Nation. Director: Paul A. Kaufman. Cast: Judy Reyes, Ana Ortiz, A Martinez, Hector Luis Bustamante, Marlene Forte, Jillian Bruno, Anthony Harrison, David Canales-Zorrilla, Chris Duran, Alejandro Chavarria. Director of photography: Mathais Herndl. Production designers: Peter Andringa, Hitoshi Okamoto. Costume designer: Carmen Bonzelius. Editor: Lisa Binkley. Casting: Donald Pemrick, Candice Elzinga.

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