A typically sentimental Hallmark made-for-TV movie about the mentally challenged, THE BOYS NEXT DOOR, though occasionally inspiring, suffers from an advanced case of theatricalism.
Jack (Tony Goldwyn), a devoted Chicago social worker, has neglected his spouse, trying to care for his four wacky charges. He makes sure that the sweetly simple Norman (Nathan Lane) controls his bottomless appetite for donuts; that the even simpler Lucian (Courtney B. Vance) is ready to appear in
front of the state Senate to insure continued support for their group home; that the grade A schizophrenic Barry (Robert Sean Leonard) deals with the upcoming visit of his father; and that the flighty manic depressive Arnold (Michael Jeter) takes his medication and learns to stand up for himself
at the supermarket.
With plenty of love and patience, Jack manages, more or less, to keep his "boys" under control. While Norman finds love with the developmentally disabled Sheila (Mare Winningham), Jack is summoned by his wife to appear at a marriage counselor's office. Soon after, to salvage his home life, Jack
decides to take a new job leasing cars. How is he going to break this news to the boys?
The timing isn't great as Barry is re-institutionalized after his heartless father berates him. Jack comforts Barry, then informs the others about his new job. Crushed, the remaining threesome, at Arnold's prompting, go to the train station to catch the next train to Russia. Jack buys the three
men, and his supervisor, round-trip tickets to nearby Milwaukee and tells them they're off to Russia. He does this to coax a more positive farewell out of them. The ploy works. The boys wave a tearful goodbye from the departing train as Jack embraces his wife.
Perhaps too aware of the awards lavished upon the RAINMANs and GUMPs of the world, Nathan Lane and Michael Jeter attempt to ham their way into our hearts. Though their broad performances are at times endearing, they sometimes turn annoying. Director John Erman should have explained that there's no
need to play to the back row; it's television, not off-Broadway, where this piece got its start. The histrionics peak when the boys kill a rat, and then learn that the flushed rodent was their neighbor's pet hamster. The resulting chorus of bawls should never have made it out of the editing room.
On the flip side, Mare Winningham, in a supporting role, offers a classier, more realistic performance, and Courtney B. Vance's Lucian supplies the best reason to rent this video. When Jack takes Lucian, whose brain hasn't progressed past that of a 5-year-old's, to testify before the state Senate,
the poor soul can barely string together a coherent sentence. Through a clever device, Jack fantasizes what an intelligent Lucian might say in the situation. Suddenly Lucian leaps to his feet and delivers an eloquent, riveting speech describing what it's like to go through life "mystified by
faucets and radios, elevators and newspapers." He proclaims society's responsibility to care for his kind because "damaged though I may be, I shall not wither, because I am unique and irreplaceable and part of you all."
It's nothing short of remarkable to witness Vance's transformation from a simpleton to a brilliant spokesman for a people who can barely express themselves.
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- Released: 1996
- Rating: PG
- Review: A typically sentimental Hallmark made-for-TV movie about the mentally challenged, THE BOYS NEXT DOOR, though occasionally inspiring, suffers from an advanced case of theatricalism. Jack (Tony Goldwyn), a devoted Chicago social worker, has neglected his sp… (more)