This is a beautifully textured film about Clara Mayfield, a Jamaican care-giver, and David Hart, the troubled young boy who is her sole charge. He is the son of Leona and Bill Hart, two self-absorbed individuals whose marriage is crumbling all around them.
Clara takes care of David and with her warm, motherly personality gives him the succor he craves, helping him with the pain of being emotionally bereft. He, in turn, loves her unconditionally and is even given to speaking patois, cementing the strong bond between them. Without his knowing it, he helps her to come to terms with her own pain and terrible secret.
Whoopi Goldberg is a wonderful actress who gives rich dimension to the role of Clara Mayfield, infusing her with an intelligence, wisdom, and warmth that is palpable. Just beneath the surface, however, one senses a tremendous desolation that becomes clear at the end, when her terrible secret is revealed. Whoopi also captures the rhythm of the lilting Jamaican accent and gets the patois down pat. It is one of her most memorable roles.
Neil Patrick Harris is terrific in the role of David, making his love for Clara believable and touching. His integration into Clara's Jamaican world is also moving, as he seeks to find a place he can truly call home. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and he even learns to speak a respectable Jamaican patois. All this, however, cannot stop his parents from claiming him in the end.
Kathleen Quinlan is excellent as the coolly detached, yuppie mother, while Michael Ontkean resonates as the ambitious and driven yuppie father. They epitomize the kind of parents who are well meaning but too self-absorbed to see the effect that their actions have on their children or that their children have emotional needs of their own that need attention.
All in all, this is a sensational movie and one in which Whoopi Goldberg leaves her mark. It is a film lovingly directed by Robert Mulligan (To Kill a Mockingbird, Up the Down Staircase, The Other) and should be seen by all discerning film lovers. Bravo!