Pictures of Hollis Woods



9-11 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2

Through the years, I've lost count of the number of "Hallmark Hall of Fame" movies about troubled but basically good children in search of a stable, loving home. But if you can't award "Pictures of Hollis Woods" points for creativity, you have to marvel at how well this upbeat story has been executed.

From casting to direction, from cinematography to production design -- and let's not forget the performances -- this is a meticulously produced telefilm that will find its way to your heart and tear ducts in nothing flat.

Despite the paucity of holiday symbols, it is especially appropriate for the season. The teleplay by Ann Peacock, Daniel Petrie Jr. and Camille Thomasson (adapted from Patricia Reilly Giff's novel) has boatloads of charm and sentimentality and is determined not to become mired in messy reality or complex character analysis.

At the literal and emotional heart of this film is prepubescent Hollis Woods (a terrifically appealing Jodelle Ferland), whose name comes from the street corner in Queens where she was abandoned as a baby. A voice-over tells us she has had five foster homes. That might imply that Hollis is a holy terror with unmanageable behavior problems. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Although her unstable life has left her sullen and downcast, Hollis responds quickly and hopefully when placed with Josie Cahill (Sissy Spacek), a retired schoolteacher and Katharine Hepburn-style spinster with a case of dementia that is about to spin out of control.

The title takes its name from Hollis' talent as an artist. Josie's house includes a large art studio, which seems a bit of overkill for someone who whittles figures out of wood. The idea is to demonstrate that Hollis and Josie, despite the age difference, have much in common. Despite frequent references to Hollis' art, though, her talent is mostly irrelevant to the story.

Through flashbacks, we see Hollis four months earlier, spending the summer with a family in a rustic cabin with caring parents and wholesome activity. How the summer ended and why Hollis got a new placement will not be revealed here, particularly because it is the only unpredictable part of the entire telefilm.

Like most recent "Hall of Fame" presentations, this one takes on faith that love quickly heals great emotional pain, that caring attention quickly modifies bad behavior and that rustic areas and small towns are bastions of clean and virtuous living. It is a testament to the performances of Ferland and Spacek in particular that we eagerly buy into these stereotypes.

Notable are supporting performances by Judith Ivey as Josie's close friend and cousin and Alfre Woodard as the dedicated and persistent social worker. Director Tony Bill imbues the film with an aura of warmth and a patina of nostalgia.

Hallmark Hall of Fame Prods.
Executive producer: Brent Shields: Supervising producer: Ted Bauman
Producer: Dan Paulson
Co-producer: Cameron Johann
Director: Tony Bill
Teleplay: Ann Peacock, Daniel Petrie Jr., Camille Thomasson
Based on the novel by: Patricia Reilly Giff
Director of photography: Paul Sarossy
Production designer: Michael Bolton
Editor: Paul Dixon
Music: Van Dyke Parks
Set designer: Tedd Kuchera
Casting: Molly Lopata
Hollis Woods: Jodelle Ferland
Josie Cahill: Sissy Spacek
Edna Reilly: Alfre Woodard
Beatrice Gilcrest: Judith Ivey
Izzy Regan: Julie Ann Emery
John Regan: James Tupper
Steven Regan: Ridge Canipe