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David's Mother

A movie directed by Robert Allan Ackerman

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Mixed Feelings after viewing David's Mother

  • Jul 4, 2004
Pros: Casting of Stockard Channin and Sam Waterson

Cons: Casting of Kirstie Alley, autism was never mentioned, lacked depth

The Bottom Line: Although most of the characters are poorly developed, parents of kids on the autism spectrum might want to view this.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.

David's Mother originally aired on the CBS Network April 10, 1994. It is available in VHS and DVD format. I see it selling often on eBay, which is where I made my purchase.

Although not planned, the night preceeding my viewing of David's Mother I had caught the TBS airing of Rain Man, even though I own the video I sat through it again. These are two different takes on autism with the only thing really in common being the lack of mentioning autism within the context of the movie.

David's Mother is portrayed by Kirstie Alley as Sally Goodson. The best actor in this movie is Michael Goorjian in the role of David Goodson. Stockard Channing is known as Bea, sister to Sally. It was never mentioned who was the eldest of the girls, but Bea took on a concerned role for her sister.

The movie started in the grocery store as Sally and David were shopping. A little girl was following them around gawking at David and his hand movements in the store. At one point Sally made a remark to the girl. Sally talked to David while in the store, although he seemed to be coming out of his skin and in deep distress during the trip.

My first reaction was why did he not have something in his hands to occupy himself and make the trip less intense. He appeared to be a teenager, and it was not known until the end that his age was sixteen. Through flashbacks we see David as young as five. I thought after so many years dealing with the disability some preparation was in order for community activities. A fidget toy or item could have helped David self regulate his behaviors, instead he was seen twisting his hands and moving about awkwardly.

It was the early afternoon since Sally was offering a choice for lunch. but was well into a glass of wine and smoking a cigarette. Throughout David's Mother Sally is non-stop smoking, they appeared to be yellow/tan cigarettes, clearly not a regular type of cigarette. It was obvious to the viewer, but never expanded on what these were she was smoking.

Sally pokes fun at David quite often, dresses sloppy, lives in a New York building with a bellman. One time it was mentioned she was writing a book, but really her occupation or means for paying the rent was not explored. We met her ex-husband Phil and nineteen year old daughter through flashbacks. At times the flashbacks coincided with similar conversations and triggered the memory. It was confusing in the way they were presented in a photographic way. The image was making me dizzy and then they would cut it to the flashback. The way the flashbacks flowed was off kilter.

David's Mother would have been better had they explored the family relationship from an earlier time instead of back and forth with then and now shots. Phylicia Rashad has a small role portraying a Social Services worker who is trying to raise two children after her husband left her. This is about the only thing these two women have in common. One brief funny moment was on the streets of New York when Sally thanked Gladys Johnson for the coffee, but changed her name to Glad A--.

They did not delve into this situation that brought Gladys to their house. It was briefly mentioned that Sally had to have David in either a special school or an institution, or the State would take him away. The way this was handled was insulting to special education children and those with special needs.

It seemed that Sally had filled out some form prior stating that David was going to school in Connecticut. Sally dodged Gladys's calls and letters, which led to a confrontation on the street with David at her side. While standing there Sally had another flashback scene to when David was five and sitting on the floor at a school. She was reprimanded for entering the classroom and holding David, who had soaked himself on the floor with no one assisting him. This was one of the few moments where Sally showed real compassion for her son.

Over the years of caring for David Sally had hardened. First her husband left due to his feelings of neglect and jealousy over David, next her daughter Susan at sixteen headed for California to live with her father and his new wife. One of the flashbacks showed Phil and Susan coming home from a school play that Sally did not attend. A baby sitter had cancelled at the last minute and she had no one to care for David.

Phil shared how he missed laughter and communication more so than sex with his wife. Susan got no attention from her mother because of David. There was no evidence through flashbacks of any kind of relationship with David and his father or sister. Everyone was so busy in their anger over David and the attention his mother gave him that they did not give him any.

Bea decides that Sally needs to meet a man to take care of her and sets her sister up with a wealthy man who lives in the Penthouse of her building. He just opened up another wallpaper store he can see from his windows. John Mils is played by Sam Waterson. He is still in love with his wife who died a year ago and is looking for companionship.

The first meeting of John and David is a bit awkward at first, but John shows a genuine liking for David. The three of them head to a merry go round with John trying to bond with David. At Sally's apartment John decides he will show David how to insert the movies into the VCR.

Upon entering the apartment David removes one shoe into a certain spot and then proceeds to hit on the tv until it is turned on and a video chosen. He usually sits on a beanbag type chair watching movies. He is obviously non-verbal but no method of alternative communication is used in the household.

The writers of David's Mother really missed key chances to spotlight autism in a more conducive manner with the lacking of therapy and communication items. Sally was agitated with John teaching David how to insert a video and adamant that he cannot do anything. While they are arguing at various times she again flashbacks to similar arguments with Phil. It gets to the point where the viewer gets confused again with which scene we are watching.

There is definitely a pattern with all those who become involved with Sally. While she does appear to spend almost every waking moment with David, it does not seem to be in a very loving manner. The only time you see her hold his hand when they are walking is when someone else is around.

When the time has come for Sally to make a decision on a school/institution for David she heads to Fort Lee, New Jersey to find a place to live. When during a conversation one night with John she mentions this in passing. Sally informs John this is her life and her decision. That night John offers his own personal insight into hew parenting skills of David and explains how David can do things on his own, but she has never considered that a possibility.

It seemed like the next day they were in a video store when Sally turned to find David inserting videos into all the VCR machines along the wall. He was very pleased with himself and shocked his mother. This was a point where Sally became more aware of what David was capable of achieving.

There are some real tear jerker moments in the movie. That could be more relevant for me as the parent to two kids on the autism spectrum. While it is never mentioned, David does have a form of autism. At the end of David's Mother the screen offers the number to The Autism Society of America and listed Jay Nolan Services in Los Angeles as helping during the movie.

Several years ago we used the services of Jay Nolan for an adaptive skills trainer for my son. I am guessing that one seen where there were teenagers coming out of a potential school Sally was looking at were probably through Jay Nolan.

I never did see this when broadcast on Television, but ten years ago autism was not really part of my vocabulary. My sons were diagnosed in 1998 and 1999, but still little has been broadcast on television portraying autism in a more favorable context that clearly captures raising a child on the spectrum.

One confusing aspect of David's Mother was how Bea would tell Sally about her daughter Susan, how she was getting married and also pregnant. The only contact the viewer sees of Susan and Sally is through flashbacks, yet Sally mentions to John she has phone conversations with Susan and was not invited to the wedding.

There was no chemistry between John and Sally, they did not appear to be a suitable match. According to Bea Sally should move up in life by marrying John. Sally considered that settling since she was not in love with John. She tried to push him away many times. She was rude and brash most of the time they were together.

Whenever Bea or John was over they each took the time to acknowledge David and it did look like John made an impact by the way David held his arm once. While in a ladies room bathroom within a store, Sally and Bea were smoking - reminiscent of their high school days. This is the one time Sally discussed her concern that maybe she had something to do with David and the way he was. She worried about the joint she smoked and the wine she drank when pregnant.

I had issues with the role Phylicia Rashad was playing, this did not seem accurate and it was hard to tell what time period this was suppossed to be, even though it aired in 1994. Although it does still happen that families are pushed into placing their kids into institutions, we are well beyond that stigma and this was not necessary for the development of David's character.

David's Mother really missed key issues like therapy, communication and involvement with teachers in the portrayal of David's autistic character. By not even mentioning the exact diagnosis made it seem like a bad word to even utter. I find these movies a learning experience as a parent to see what the media is using to portray those on the autism spectrum, as well as what the general public views and may interpret as the norm for families raising kids with autism.

The ending was surprising and difficult to watch.


Viewing Format: VHS
Video Occasion: Good for a Rainy Day
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older

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October 25, 2010
Pretty well-written review and the detail you provided is awesome. Thanks for sharing! I see you have moved this from Epinions. Welcome!
About the reviewer
Bonnie Sayers ()
Ranked #161
single parenting two teens on autism spectrum. Working out daily, Zumba & Bodybugg enthusiast.
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About this movie


In this made-for-TV drama, Kirstie Alley stars as Sally Goodson, a sassy, single mother whose life is largely spent caring for her autistic son, David (Michael J. Goorjian). However, her involvement in David's life pushes away everyone else around her, and draws the attention of a social services worker who pushes to have the boy institutionalized. Can Sally develop a life of her own and save her son?
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Release Date: 1994
MPAA Rating: PG-13
DVD Release Date: Universal Music & Video Distribution (May 04, 2004)
Runtime: 1hr 32min
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