Making a Choice
Between a drug addicted mother suffering from mental illness and a drug addicted father who if he isn't shooting up in the kitchen is watching Jeopardy, Liz Murray (Jennifer Pisana/Thora Birch) didn't have the greatest of starts in life. It is little wonder that after her mum is diagnosed with Aids and her dad ends up in a shelter having not paid the rent that Liz ended up homeless and living rough on the streets at just the age of 15. But whilst Liz was not alone in her situation she decided she had a choice, a choice to change her future and make something of her life by getting an education and making it to Harvard despite having the odds stacked against her.
I am a huge fan of TV movies and I often get asked why as many people think they are joke. The reason is simple as once in a while you come across a movie like "Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story" which makes you sit up and pay attention. Now "Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story" is not unusual as here we have a Lifetime movie based on a true story and one which as you can imagine is an inspirational movie. But what "Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story" has going for it is a level of grittiness which is not only unusual for a TV movie but would be unusual for a big screen movie. It also features performances which are not only a cut above the usual for a TV movie but equal if not better than some big screen movies.
Now if you don't believe me all I will ask you to do is find a copy of "Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story" and start watching and if you are not hooked within the first 10 minutes then fine. In these opening 10 minutes we encounter a horrifying scene as Liz's mum Jean is attacking Liz's sister, played by Ellen Page, because she wants the social money so she can buy drugs all the time her father is on the couch watching Jeopardy with no care for the turmoil going on or that they live in squalor. It is hard hitting stuff and there is a lot more of it from Liz going to school and you can literally see the smell rising from her unwashed body to her father walking into the kitchen to shoot up whilst the social are there to take Liz into a tough children's home.
These opening scenes are some of the grittiest I have encountered especially for a TV movie with Jennifer Pisana doing a fantastic job of playing the young Liz, getting across that she is smart but also devoted to her mother who despite her drug addiction and crazed ways cares for her daughter. But it is Kelly Lynch as her mother Jean who blows you away from the highs of addiction, the tremors of withdrawals but also because Jean ends up dying from Aids. This is a performance right up there with those Oscar winning performances you see actors get who lose tons of weight to deliver an authentic characterisation.
But as I write this I have barely covered the first half of this moving, powerful and inspirational movie as to follow we have Liz ending up homeless and living rough with a friend. But we also have the movie's most important element and that is despite having every reason to blame her parents or the uncaring social workers for her predicament Liz makes the decision that it is her choice to carry on as she is and accept that she will end up like her mother or to choose to do something about it. It is this which inspirational and as such Thora Birch, who takes over the role of the teenage Liz, does as good as job as Kelly Lynch and Jennifer Pisana in making her a very real character. But Birch does this by keeping her restrained, allowing the narration she delivers and just the looks she gives to speak volumes about how she feels.
What this all boils down to is that there are a lot of TV movies which are powerful and inspiring but "Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story" is truly something special and to be totally honest is up there with some of the better big screen movies. As I said if you don't believe me just find the DVD and start watching and I would bet that within the first 10 minutes you will be hooked.