Never underestimate a teenager with a mission. That’s the lesson a suburban New York couple learns the hard way in this adaptation of Barbara Dana’s 1986 novel Necessary Parties. Everything about this 1988 production feels just right, from the music and lighting to the casting and camera work.
As the story begins, Stephen and Connie Mills are about to call it quits after 16 years of marriage. When Stephen (Geoffrey Pierson) awkwardly breaks the silence of a tense family dinner to announce the impending divorce, their 14-year-old son, Chris (Mark Paul Gosselaar), angrily declares his intention of stopping it. Neither Stephen nor Connie (Julie Hagerty) pays heed to him, so he is left to devise a plan to keep the once-happy family from crumbling around him and his 6-year-old sister, Jenny (Taylor Fry).
Chris gets in touch with Archie Corelli (Alan Arkin), a part-time auto mechanic, part-time lawyer, and full-time character. At home, Archie warms his socks in the oven, plays baroque music (by Corelli, of course) on the recorder, and keeps Parmesan cheese in a corner of the kitchen, right behind the antifreeze. Archie is reluctant to take the case. ”Lawyers don’t stop divorces,” he tells Chris. ”They like ’em. They’re lucrative.” Gosselaar exudes a relaxed confidence as the troubled but determined teen, while Arkin, magnetic as always, is superb — funny one moment, full of emotional energy the next — as he fights to keep Chris’ family together. Author Dana, Arkin’s wife, delivers the perfect mix of love and hardheadedness as Carol, Archie’s adoring and strong-willed girlfriend of 12 years. Donald Moffat is convincing as the cantankerous Grampa Mills, an eccentric living on a houseboat.
Fast-paced, witty, and powerful, Arkin and Dana’s teleplay will provoke strong feelings in anyone touched by divorce. There’s some sermonizing here, to be sure, but it’s understated — and it’s right. A