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Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Retro Review: Losing Isaiah (1995)

Losing Isaiah
Cast: Jessica Lange, Halle Berry, Cuba Gooding Jr, Samuel L. Jackson, David Strathairn
Genre: Drama
U.S Box Office Gross: $7.6 million

Plot: The natural and adoptive mothers of a young boy are involved in a bitter, controversial custody battle

'Race Version of Kramer vs Kramer, It Has TV Movie-Of-The-Week Quality, Yet A Few QualitIes To Stand Out From The Pack'

Originally based on a novel, Losing Isaiah is a poignant and at times heartwrenching drama that asks the question,''who or what makes a good loving mother?'' & whether or not they can provide for the child, not on a financial level but on an emotional one, irrespective of the colour of their skin.

A crack-addict mother named Khalia abandons her son in a cardboard box in an alley in squalid conditions. The baby is saved and taken to a hospital. He is then adopted by a nurse/social worker in Margaret and she and her family raise Isaiah as her own child. Several years later, Khalia is reformed, clean and who is willing to go to great lengths to reconnect with Isaiah. Even if it means getting him back from Margaret.

Losing Isaiah does have a make-shift TV movie feel; however, the level of depth this film covers and the lengths it goes to make it more worthwhile and concrete, elevates this effort way beyond that of a TV movie, and by right, this production should have been picked up by a major Hollywood film distributor and was given the extra push it so richly deserves as a theatrical and cinematic feature. 

It's like a multi-racial version of 1979's Kramer vs Kramer, only that it goes a lot deeper in both the dramatics and the issue at hand and the impact feels just as profound and emotionally raw. With Halle Berry in the Meryl Streep role as the troubled mother who abandons her son and Jessica Lange in the Dustin Hoffman role as the doting working parent, who picks up the slack. Just as with Kramer vs Kramer it did it for Dustin Hoffman & Meryl Streep for challenging traditionalist patriarchal and so-called gender-specific roles and that what makes a good parent isn't necessarily tied to gender, with Losing Isaiah and in Jessica Lange & Halle Berry, what makes a good parent isn't necessarily based on race and ethnicity & that a Caucasian mother is just as capable of raising and looking after a child of colour as a Black/African-American mother. 

If it were not for being a TV movie, I think Losing Isaiah would have stood a chance of being nominated at the Academy Awards and Halle Berry's performance here was far more heartfelt and real than in Monster's Ball, which she won the Oscar for. Even, if at first, it seemed contrived. Jessica Lange was terrific and I liked that though it is implied that she is the perfect and ideal mother, who doesn't have all the baggage and problems that Khalia has, Margaret also has problems to contend with. Both Lange and Berry's status breathe new life into their roles with an impassionate quality that gives Losing Isaiah extra leverage above many other throwaway made-for-TV films. With Lange, since Tootsie, she never secured the bigger roles that others have anticipated from her in major Hollywood films, and yet her turn here further demonstrates and shows that Lange was and should have been destined for greater things, after her Best Supporting Actress win in 1983 as Julie. She is that great of a dramatic actress. 

The film did a very good job presenting both sides of the argument and showing both the pros and cons of both Khalia and Margaret's circumstances and situations. It shows them struggling, doing well; of them expressing different emotions. I'm also glad that it avoids making the mistake of painting both of them or either of them as outright villains. There is no definitive answer, and if there is one, there are always going to be some disagreements and doubts raised by some people. Additionally, Losing Isaiah avoids becoming too mawkish and sentimental that it becomes another of those preppy TV movie dross.

It can be argued that the race card is played a lot here, but the key issue here is interracial adoption and the manner the film tackles this issue, is well done. 

The casting is great: to see Halle Berry, Cuba Gooding Jr, Samuel L. Jackson and Jessica Lange all in a little-known movie such as this, is a treat and this is something that doesn't happen with many other TV-based movies.

Final Verdict

Despite the trial decision, there is no definitive answer or solution, but at the same time, it (wisely) chooses not to take the easy way out. I thought the ending was nice and appropriate. Along with a strong cast and believable performances, Losing Isaiah is one emotionally-charged TV movie which is made all the more worthwhile. 

Rather than having plenty to lose, this film has so much to gain, which it did, and more besides.

Losing Isaiah goes hand-in-hand with & is an ideal complement to Kramer vs Kramer.



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