TV Movie: “Custody”

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I love a good TV movie, but from time to time watching a less than stellar one is fun too. Sometimes too much fun. However, for how much fun a bad TV movie may be, every now and then a good one really needs to come along and be watched. That, sadly, is easier said than done. While so many strive to be great or do something memorable, they just to tend to miss the mark by a little or a lot, or don’t even try and hit it, and the final product just ends up being a missed opportunity.

The Lucky Monkey Pictures film “Custody” certainly captivates you with the courtroom drama, but overstays its welcome when it comes to humanizing the main characters. While this is a major drawback, I can’t at all say that it’s not worth the time, if for no other reason than you get to see another performance from Viola Davis, Hayden Panettiere and Catalina Sandino Moreno. When you think about the network’s track record with films of any sort, it’s not great. So, when you go into this one or consider it for however long it is you do, keep in mind it’s a huge step up from that which is usually shown. I was even so fortunate not to be on Twitter when watching this as it probably would’ve ruined what little there is to get out of this film.

Court Is Now In Session

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This is a courtroom drama. There’s no denying that and because of this, the film manages to excel and be the reason you stick around, or hopefully will. I don’t know of many programs on TV that focus solely on issues dealing with family court. Sure in the various “Law & Order” shows (only one remains), you’d get brief glimpses of a case leading to family court, but nothing that seems to provide an in depth look. That being said, even with all my knowledge on various legal proceedings and maneuvers, I can’t exactly say I’m even somewhat versed in matters such as the ones depicted in this film. I can only guess. But even doing just that, I feel that this film probably captured the complex nature of this type of court case.

Primarily, there’s a lot red tape. In general, what with this being before a judge, there are a lot of rules and regulations that must be followed, but the fun doesn’t stop there. Because there are children, adhering to even more regulations, even when they’re annoying but understandable, takes its toll. Even Davis’ character finds so much of the red tape exhausting to sit through. Such is the way the law works. I was quite surprised by this, and I must say the film benefits from it too.

While you’re busy responding emotionally, not only do you get caught up in each court appearance, you no doubt come close to experiencing the anxieties Moreno is busy portraying. I don’t think I was prepared for how emotional I’d get and how tough it’d be to sit through a fictional court case. Because of this, in so many ways, I feel I learned something. The system, whether you think it’s working in your favor or not, is flawed and complicated. Sometimes, depending on the stage of the trial or hearing, it may be fairer and sometimes, you get screwed no matter what. Because of this aspect, not only was I excited for this film, which is why, in part, I watched it, but I was also reminded of something else.

A short lived show called “Raising the Bar” aimed to analyze the legal system in a similar fashion as this film. It would show the good, the bad and the fractured. The legal system works, but sometimes the outcomes are not what are expected. Innocent people get locked up and the guilty go free for one reason or another. Sometimes even, which is what makes the show stay in my mind, what truly is innocent and non-threatening, could end up sending someone to prison. The system and the laws that help make it up aren’t always fair. I bring this up still, as I wasn’t too sure what direction the film would go. That’s also where the courtroom drama and intrigue comes from. If that doesn’t hook you, then I don’t know what will.

A Little Goes A Long Way

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While the legal drama may be enough to get you through the film itself and make sitting through it largely worth it, the same can’t be said for all the additional scenes that focus on the private lives of the main characters. When I first heard of this film and the general narrative approach, I was excited about it. These women would be shown dealing with their personal lives and responding to how the trial is affecting them, among other things. However, as can happen, that’s not really what was delivered.

Yes, Davis, Pannetiere, and Moreno’s private lives were explored, along with a little of Raul Esparza’s, but most of it seldom dealt with the case they were all involved in. You may get a few glimpses into how this particular case is affecting them, but they’re mostly brief and forgettable. The only, and obvious exception, to this is Moreno. She’s the mother being accused of mistreating her children, so of course she’d be responding and you’d get a good look at who she is. What she goes through, I can only imagine, is pure hell. She know’s she’s not a bad parent, but she must prove it and there are so many hoops to jump through. It’s Moreno, more so than the others, that makes you interested in what’s going on outside the courtroom, but that’s not entirely a bad thing.

Panettiere and Davis mostly had other issues going on in their lives, and that’s actually the problem. I’ll admit that it was a great way to expand on who they are and provided many a dramatic moment, but since it never connected back to the case, it wasn’t worth getting all excited about. Sure, I learned a lot about them and could find an easy way in, but I mostly wasn’t moved. Sometimes I didn’t even care, especially by the end of the film. The reason why, there was something else at play.

This something manifested itself in being bored. Not completely bored, but enough. Eventually the film started to drag and feel a lot longer than it really was. Granted, the addition of necessary commercial breaks didn’t help either. An hour and 44 minute film suddenly turns into a two and a half hour film. I like films that can find compelling ways to get me to learn and care about the main characters, but when it’s done in a somewhat dull and disruptive way, it only hurts the film overall. There’s seldom a way to get past this particular development.

Originally Aired: March 4, 2017 on Lifetime

Written and Directed: James Lapin

Starring: Catalina Sandino Moreno, Hayden Panettiere, Viola Davis, Tony Sholoub, Raul Esparza, Dan Fogler, Sharrieff Pugh, Roger Robinson, Selenis Leyva, Stephen Kunken, Bryce Lorenzo, Jaden Michael, David Aaron Baker and Ellen Burstyn

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