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MIO Movie Reviews: Surviving – A Family in Crisis

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Editor's Note: Back when she was in Congress, Mary Fallin admitted in an interview that she once appeared as in extra in a Molly Ringwald film. After some help from the TLO iTeam, we determined the movie was most likely the 1985 ABC family drama "Surviving: A Family In Crisis." The star-studded (at the time) TV movie was filmed in and around Oklahoma City (Channel 5 even added a "Made in Oklahoma" graphic to screen during the local airing) and focused on the always happy topic of teen suicide. We pegged Louis Fowler to review the movie, and hunt for Mary, in this edition of "Made in Oklahoma" movie reviews.

I’ve always admired teens that are so immeasurably deep in love they make suicide pacts. I mostly say that because when I attempted teenage suicide, it was me, alone, huddled in a dark corner of the room, razor to my wrist, desperately hoping that someone would care enough to come and stop me, let alone join me.

But, such are the heart-wrenching proto-emo infused pangs of loneliness and pain that an unattractive and overweight teen with only one way out of his numerous, insurmountable problems faced once upon a time, I suppose.

Overweight and unattractive, however, are definitely two things that Molly Ringwald and Zach Galligan are unequivocally not in the fantastically maudlin Surviving: A Family in Crisis, also known as Tragedy on VHS and Nichols Hills Kids with Imaginary Problems by me, recently.

Shot mostly in the affluent whites-only community of Nichols Hills, this ABC-TV drama starts off in a backyard BBQ welcoming home Lonnie (a lackadaisical Molly Ringwald), fresh from her stay at possibly Griffin Memorial in Norman. She’s a suicidal hottie that I would have desperately crushed on in high school, using our various scars as a great conversation starter.

Her parents are typical Nichols Hills-types played by Marsha Mason and Paul Sorvino, concerned only with keeping up appearances and their apparently multi-million dollar t-shirt company that specializes in primarily blank hot pink Hanes Beefy-Ts.

Enter the Romeo of this overplayed equation, Rick (a long way from Gremlins’ Zach Galligan). Unlike Lonnie, he’s the perfect teen, studying hard to become a rich doctor just like his overly-enthusiastic dad (Len Cariou) who pressures him with SAT questions at every waking moment available. Rick also likes to relax by listening to Verdi and taking creepy black and white photos of his neighbors when no one is looking.

Rick and Lonnie reconnect at said backyard party, lounging on the grass as Paul Sorvino, disturbingly clad in bright yellow high-waisted slacks, does a punk-rock pogo to Huey Lewis and the News’ “The Heart of Rock and Roll.” No wonder these kids want to die.

If there was one scene where Fallin would probably fit in best, it would be as a Nichols Hills resident and I scoured like an SOS pad looking for her, but, alas, apparently all blonde white women in 1985 looked the same, Laura Ashley fashions engulfing their very beings. So no luck yet. Back to the movie.


As their relationship builds, Rick begins to slack off in his studies, blatantly blowing off his important science test at the former Classen High School and not eating the meals his mom (a histrionic Ellen Burstyn) has worked so hard to prepare. Instead, he’d rather spend his time frolicking poolside with Lonnie and making sweet teen love to her on the world’s rockiest, jaggedest staircase. I agree with Rick on this one.

They also spend hours on the phone dreamily talking about how much they love ice cream and baked potatoes with chives.

Their collective depression and anger begins to snowball as Rick finds out that not only is his pops giving a daily house-call of deceitful dick to another broad, but that Lonnie used to let the entire football team have their way with her because she wanted to be “liked.” Finally realizing this world is not made for them, Rick creepily intones that he wants to go to bed with her, not for the blessed act of procreation, but to “pull the covers over their heads and never wake up again.”

Of course, this is around the time Lonnie’s ‘rents catch them in bed together, creating the perfect emotional Molotov ripe for an explosive double suicide, but not before cruising around Lake Hefner and Lynn Hickey Dodge on a moped as Pat Benatar’s “We Belong” blares on the soundtrack.

What happens during all this is the most disturbing part of the film: the die-namic duo stops for a little heart to heart, wherein Lonnie relays a horrific story of repeated bashing in a baby chicken’s head before drowning it. With this late-term information, it’s easy to surmise that Lonnie is also probably a total psychopath, but it does make their immediately rash decision to pull the ol’ double carbon monoxide in a locked garage routine a little more palpable to inhale.

And this is all just in the first hour, mind you.

What follows in the second-half of Surviving is some of the greatest overacting from acclaimed, award-winning Hollywood actors ever captured on film. Sorvino, Mason and especially Burstyn really ham it up, presenting every scene as though it were destine to be an Emmy clip. The movie reaches its treacle bottom when the double-funeral at the Village Baptist Church is followed with a procession through many OKC landmarks and neighborhoods, heavy-handedly showing how no one is left unaffected by teen suicide.

During this whole funeral sequence is where my search for Mary took a new turn, as I paused the screen and desperately examined each mourner, squintly trying to make out the distorted faces that a sixth-generation, recorded-off-of-television-dub would allow me. Once again, no dice. This claim is starting to sound more and more dubious. Like it was something she said because she knew it couldn’t be proven. But back to the movie.

The surrounding sadness of teen suicide is drilled home even deeper when Lonnie’s parents find her book of poetry (OF COURSE SHE HAS A BOOK OF POETRY), with one of the verses including the deliciously morbid lines “I wrote a poem on my wrists, using a razor as a pen.” Hang yourself on that structural beam, Ian Curtis!

(Sure, I’d love to be all “yikes” about those lines, but I can’t say that I didn’t write the same things in high school either. Or now, via Twitter. I’m a living cry for help, people!)

Surviving concludes with both families (of which also, ironically enough, include future cadavers Heather O’Rourke and River Phoenix) starting an old-fashioned ragtime family band. I am not joking. At all.

And, even worse, absolutely zero Mary Fallin. Anywhere. Throughout the entire running time. Unless she was the car that suffocated the teens, in which case, bravura performance, Madame!

In the end, Surviving: A Family in Crisis, is a television misfire that had its heart in the right place—on its sleeve—but today, is a comically dated bigger-budgeted afterschool special that completely works in its intended opposite direction, practically teaching today’s cynical teens that, when no one understands you, sometimes killing yourself truly is the only answer and, as a bonus, is a totally bitchin’ way to make everyone who has ever mistreated you feel like total crap for a few days.

Or, at the very least, start an old-fashioned ragtime family band.

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