By Ken Tucker
October 19, 1990 at 04:00 AM EDT

This exceptional TV movie takes a lot of unpromising elements — the home-video boom, disease-of-the-week movies, teen romance stories, and the Oedipal complex — and makes art out of them. Extreme Close-Up tells the story of 15-year-old David (Morgan Weisser) and his life immediately after the death of his mother, played by Blair Brown (The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd).

David is a modern kid who hides his adolescent awkwardness behind a camcorder — he interacts with people by videotaping them. ”You’d prefer to live your life through video images rather than the real world,” says Craig T. Nelson (Coach), who plays David’s dad. Who can blame David? His mother, who at first seems charmingly flighty, proves mentally unstable; alienated from her husband, she turns to David for emotional support. When she dies in a car accident, David becomes obsessed with the video he’s shot of her. We watch the footage along with him, trying, as he is, to figure out his mother’s life.

This all sounds depressing, but it’s not: Extreme Close-Up is funny and sarcastic and sexy as well as sad. All the acting is wonderful, with Samantha Mathis especially good as David’s sensitive but sensible girlfriend. Extreme Close-Up was created by a thirtysomething cadre: That show’s creators, Ed Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz, conceived the story and produced; Peter Horton — thirtysomething‘s Gary — directed. (Horton switches back and forth between the filmed story and David’s videotapes with an ease that never makes this stylistic device seem pretentious.) But even if you don’t like thirtysomething, watch Extreme Close-Up: It’s the TV movie of the year. A+