Despite Delbert Mann's painstaking direction and the affability of the cast, LILY IN WINTER can't plug up the hemorrhaging of happenstance that proves terminal for its screenplay. Still, this sentimental trifle has what it takes to become a TV perennial for the Christmas season.
Transplanted from the south to Manhattan in the 1950s, Lily (Natalie Cole) works as a maid in the household of scenic designer Jim (Dwier Brown) and actress Donna (Cecil Hoffman). While blocking out emotional bruises from her own past, Lily develops maternal feelings for young Michael Towler
(Brian Bonsall), who is neglected by his workaholic parents. In hot water with loan sharks, Lily's ne'er-do-well brother, Booker (Monte Russell), talks her into leaving the Towler residence unlocked so that he can rob it to pay his debts. But when she returns home on the appointed day, she sees a
body being loaded into an ambulance and jumps to the conclusion that the burglary has gone awry. (It is actually an ailing neighbor). Panicking, she heads for a train out of town, tailed by Michael who refuses to leave her. Their impromptu journey takes them to the home of Lily's mother, Mazie
(Marla Gibbs). Meanwhile, Michael's parents tell the police they fear their missing son has been kidnapped.
Though worried about how to deal with the fallout caused by her flight, Lily relishes her family reunion and bonds with her "niece" Louetta (Rae'ven Kelly), who doesn't know that she is really the product of an affair between Lily and a married man. Lily accepts responsibility for her actions and
convinces Michael to give his wised-up parents another chance. Since Michael's folks don't press charges, Lily is able to return to Louetta, whom she promises she'll never abandon again.
Of all the hurdles in logic LILY IN WINTER sails over, the one it cannot clear is Lily's overreaction to the ambulance spotted outside the Towlers' building. The film never quite recovers from the unlikelihood of her not investigating further before jeopardizing her future. But once Lily is back
in Dixie, the melodrama is on surer ground since both the protagonist and the viewer can draw comfort from Lily's roots. The unconditional affection Mazie lavishes on her children is sharply contrasted to the pampering but absentee parenting Michael receives from his parents. In her acting debut,
singer Cole acts with precision but can't seem to win the camera's affections. Despite these drawbacks, this tearjerker manages succinctly to contrast Lily's two households. Sweet-natured as a lullaby, LILY IN WINTER breaks no new ground but basks viewers in Yuletide goodwill, leaving them in
receptive mood for facing their own relatives in a charitable frame of mind. Such an accomplishment is not to be laughed off. (Violence, profanity.)
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- Released: 1995
- Rating: PG
- Review: Despite Delbert Mann's painstaking direction and the affability of the cast, LILY IN WINTER can't plug up the hemorrhaging of happenstance that proves terminal for its screenplay. Still, this sentimental trifle has what it takes to become a TV perennial fo… (more)