ABC’s elaborately titled Oprah Winfrey Presents: Mitch Albom’s For One More Day is a strange swirl of a TV movie. Predictable but engaging, hokey but somehow genuine, OWPMAFOMD is your basic story of forgiveness and redemption starring The Sopranos’ Michael Imperioli, the least likely candidate for a holiday-season movie. (Next up: Michael Madsen in Diddle Ducky’s Dandy Christmas Day.)
Where Imperioli’s Christopher Moltisanti left off, dead in a smashed car, due to drugged driving and a malevolent father figure, Imperioli’s Chick Benetto picks up — almost dead in a smashed car, due to drunk driving and a malevolent father. Chick, we discover, is a suicidal, washed-up baseball player with daddy issues who lost his family because he started boozing after the death of his mom, Posey (Ellen Burstyn), a decade-ish earlier. Huddling on the brink of death, he’s magically granted one last day with his mother, who helps Chick sort out his life while inexplicably dragging him along on visits to dying old women, whose hair she fixes so they’ll look pretty when they cross over. (A clever bit of beyond-the-grave multitasking, this, and entirely egregious.) Throughout Chick’s day with his mom, we see flashbacks of his college years (Imperioli with a crazy, corkscrewing ’70s-era ‘fro) and his very brief glory days with the Mets (Imperioli with a Hernandez-esque ‘stache). Basically, this is a tale told with many hairdos. We even see Chick in his old age (sitting for an interview with a mysterious woman), which is basically Imperioli looking just like Imperioli, but with a dash of gray at the temples.
What makes OWPMAFOMD watchable, even sporadically enjoyable, amidst all the coiffing is its truly fantastic cast, who avoid that guilty slumming look of TV-movie actors. Imperioli never quite shakes off his New Jersey Turnpike vibe, but the guy wields confusion and anger like expert knuckleballs. As Young Boy Chick, Imperioli’s real-life son, Vadim, is great: He’s natural and unaffected as an Eisenhower-era kid who played baseball to please his jackass macho dad (Street Time’s Scott Cohen). Burstyn, in a role that could have been Generic Wise Old Woman, is wonderfully plucky, and Samantha Mathis uncannily channels Burstyn as Posey in her tempestuous younger years.
Naturally, many secrets are revealed before the end: why Daddy left the family, why Chick is so guilt-ridden over his mom’s death, why a woman is writing his life story. All answers ultimately lead to the moral that we should appreciate our moms more because they teach us invaluable life lessons — and sometimes after they die, they’ll return and perm your hair. C+