Cheers! AA founder's wife gets Hallmark treatment

Wed Apr 21, 2010 8:06pm EDT
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By Randee Dawn

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Behind every great man there stands an equally great woman, or so they say.

In the case of Bill and Lois Wilson, behind one very drunk man there stood a sober, suffering wife. Fortunately, the sober, suffering wife of CBS' Hallmark Hall of Fame film airing on Sunday, "When Love Is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story," is played by Winona Ryder, recalling the period winsomeness and inner steel she displayed in "The Age of Innocence."

Lois, the educated, older wife of "country boy" Bill (Barry Pepper) was not the first co-dependent married to a drunk, but she proved to be the pillar of strength that allowed him to get sober and conjure Alcoholics Anonymous, after which she became the matriarch of Al-Anon.

"Love" is a standardly structured tale with the occasional dud line -- "I guess being sober has its own challenges" -- but that flatness is easily offset by the fine production values (come on, it is Hallmark). The period design, always a challenge on a television budget, is detailed and warm, the costumes true and textured. The hats alone deserve special recognition.

Ryder, Pepper and the supporting cast are fine, if never too-deeply drawn; during the course of their years together, Lois puts up with about 110% more garbage than a modern woman would today. Bill's drinking and recovery costs her everything, including the family home, but it's always clear that this couple is devoted to each other. Calling it "When Love Is Not Enough" might mirror the title of the book it is based on, but isn't quite fair: Love doesn't fail the Wilsons; the inner will to quit and society's miscomprehension of alcoholism does.

"Love" is a pleasant, burnished look at two intertwined lives. A second layer to their relationship goes ignored -- nary a hint of Bill's real-life philandering emerges, for example -- but it's a biopic, not a miniseries, after all. Early on, Lois remarks about how many people are drawn "into the vortex of the alcoholic." More still are likely to be drawn in thanks to "Love," perhaps emerging with a deeper understanding of how we became a 12-step nation.