You may remember the 1989 case of Martin Klein, a Long Island man who went to court for permission to abort his wife’s fetus. She was comatose after an auto accident; he believed that her pregnancy was endangering her recovery and, perhaps, her life. That’s the basis for this TV movie starring Henry Winkler (Happy Days, Night Shift) as Martin and Jennifer Hetrick (Corinne Hammond on L.A. Law) as Nancy Klein. You also may remember the outcome of this case — the abortion was performed 17 weeks into Nancy’s pregnancy, and the woman eventually emerged from her coma — so there’s little suspense in Absolute Strangers. The focus of the movie is on the drama surrounding the court case, in which a number of antiabortion activists — the ”absolute strangers” of the title-tried to prevent the abortion by attempting to become the legal guardians of Nancy and the fetus.
The real-life case was about the controversial subject of abortion, but this TV movie is about something else: unbelievable gall and rudeness. Winkler’s Klein is a calm, polite man; he is shocked, appalled by the self- righteous bullying of the antiabortion forces who presume to make decisions for the Kleins. He is also disgusted, in a brief scene, by the blithe arrogance of an abortion-rights activist who seeks to use the details of the Kleins’ case in her speeches. Klein wants nothing to do with this woman — ”I don’t want Nancy to become some rallying cry,” he says.
Winkler is a charming actor, but he walks through much of Absolute Strangers like a zombie. Part of the reason for this, surely, is that his character is stunned and confused over his wife’s predicament; but another part of it is that, in Robert O. Anderson’s script, Winkler is called upon to play a bland everyman. ”I don’t have any views on abortion — we’re just a family,” Winkler’s Klein says at one point.
Now, perhaps this is what Martin Klein actually said or thought. But if that is the case, director and executive producer Gilbert Cates would have done better to have fictionalized this story, because in dramatic terms, Klein’s noncommittal attitude renders him a blank spot in the middle of the TV screen. To have an interesting movie, Cates needed a protagonist who was willing to commit himself to his beliefs. Instead, he ended up with a movie in which everyone is either a victim or a villain.