A Loving Memory
When his wife, Norah (Gretchen Mol - The Valley of Light), goes into labour early, her husband, Dr. David Henry (Dermot Mulroney - Zodiac), rushes her to a nearby clinic where, with the help of Nurse Caroline Gill (Emily Watson - The Water Horse), he delivers their son. But much to his surprise a second child is born just minutes later, a baby girl who David quickly realises has Down Syndrome. It brings back traumatic memories of his mother struggling to deal with the loss of his own sister when she died young and so with Norah out cold he asks Caroline to take the child to a home for the handicapped and those not expected to live long. But it is a decision which haunts him as not only does he end up lying to Norah and telling her that a second child was still born but Caroline can't bring her self to leave the child at the squalid, uncaring facility and instead takes the child, who she names Phoebe (Emma Colbert/Krystal Hope Nausbaum), to her home to care for her herself.
"The Memory Keeper's Daughter" reveals itself quite quickly as being a forced melodrama; Norah Henry who is heavily in labour takes one last look at their home and tells David that next time they come back they will have a family. It is cloying and sadly this forced sentimentality rears its head throughout the movie, spoiling what could have been a very good drama without it. In fact "The Memory Keeper's Daughter" has the potential to be a fascinating drama about attitudes towards Down Syndrome and the consequence of decisions. But unfortunately because so much of the movie delivers manufactured sentiment it dilutes the storyline, turning it into a movie which often skims the edge of being cheesy.
But as I said; "The Memory Keeper's Daughter" has the potential to be a fascinating drama. That comes from firstly through David having to live with the consequence of his actions, with the guilt of abandoning his child and also lying to his wife, with both ending up eating away at him and ruining their marriage. It is a mix of powerful yet cliche as we watch David throw himself in to work and his hobby, photography, to try and distract himself from the feelings eating him up inside. At the same time get to see how Caroline's life ends up enriched by having Phoebe in it and whilst I have to say that the movie refrains from showing too much day to day hardship there is a joy in watching Caroline love and care for this abandoned child especially when it comes to her campaigning for Phoebe to get an education and to be treated fairly.
What really helps "The Memory Keeper's Daughter", and remember this is a TV movie, is that it has a good cast who deliver the emotion of their characters. Gretchen Mol as Norah is great as the wife who has no idea why her husband no longer wants to be close to her, fearing he is having an affair and then driven into the arms of other men because of that need for affection. Dermot Mulroney is just as good as David, delivering that hidden pain perfectly, restrained so that we can see how he's changed, burdened by the dark secret. And Emily Watson is the cream of the crop because she delivers the character of Caroline with a moral power yet not to the point which is over the top. If only they hadn't been saddled with some seriously cloying dialogue "The Memory Keeper's Daughter" could have been a great movie.
What this all boils down to is that if you can get passed all the sentiment and an abundance of cloying dialogue you will find that "The Memory Keeper's Daughter" is a good movie. It has an interesting story aided by some good acting and whilst what should be an emotional but gritty drama gets turned into something more melodramatic it is still a worthwhile watch.