Last night Lifetime aired Return to Zero, a movie unlike anything I’ve ever watched on the network before, and I found it really refreshing. It would have been more fun to watch, and definitely more fun to write about, had it been a campfest full of twists and turns, but I have to give the network credit for showing something different.
The film is based on writer-director-producer Sean Hanish’s own experience, as it tells the story of Maggie and Aaron (Minnie Driver and Paul Adelstein) in the aftermath of a stillbirth. Maggie falls into depression, their relationship and their relationship crumbles, and eventually they’re faced with another pregnancy and the uncertainty that comes with it. Cheery subject matter, I know. But if you can believe it, the movie avoids corniness, and there was minimal eye-rolling on my part, which you can imagine is one of the highest compliments for me to pay a movie.
I liked that this film approached a specific issue from a relatively simple, straightforward angle. It didn’t feel the need to insert over-the-top cinematography or last-minute twists to get its message across. Sure, there were some TV-movie-like plots, like Aaron’s cheating and the fact that Maggie’s mother ends up confessing she had a miscarriage before Maggie was born and can relate to her. But they were much less heavy-handed than I’m used to from Lifetime movies. This was a much quieter approach to storytelling. Just two characters dealing with tragedy and all the complex experiences and emotions that come with it.
Minnie Driver’s performance definitely helped, and fortunately the script lived up to the star power. It felt honest and truthful to how real people talk about their problems, without relying heavily on cliche or metaphor. She made me really feel for her character, and unlike with other TV movies about serious issues, I didn’t find myself wondering the whole time, “Is this really how it is for people who have this experience? Or is this a total exaggeration?” It was believable and real, and I expect that’s majorly due to the fact that the filmmaker experienced it firsthand.
My biggest issue with the movie was the length. It was an indie acquisition for the network, so it most likely wasn’t designed to fit perfectly into a 2-hour timeslot with commercials. That means it ended up running an extra half-hour. It’s interesting, because it seemed to go much faster than a lot of shorter Lifetime movies I’ve watched, yet I still felt like it should have been condensed. Or just cut off at the two-hour mark.
In fact, I didn’t realize the movie was running an extra half-hour until the clock struck 10 PM and I noticed it wasn’t over. However, before I realized the extended runtime I thought it was a really interesting and refreshing place for a Lifetime movie to stop, because it was during the scene in which Maggie tells Aaron that she’s pregnant again. Cutting the movie off there would have made it open-ended, something you never see in these movies. I love open-ended stories, so I was giddy at the idea that Lifetime was using one.
However, given the nature of the movie and the messages it was trying to convey of hope and optimism and moving on from tragedy, it makes sense that the second pregnancy and ultimate birth was depicted. It could have been shorter and still accommodated that storyline, but it was such a nice chance of pace all around that I can’t really complain. You get a break this time, Lifetime, but I can see Petals on the Wind on the horizon, and I’m coming for you.