Here’s something new and un-welcome: a timid tear-jerker. Whoopi Goldberg plays Corrina Washington, a ’50s-era housekeeper who goes to work for Manny Singer (Ray Liotta), a recently widowed jingle writer with a traumatized 8-year-old daughter, Molly (Tina Majorino). Molly has refused to talk since her mother’s death. Corrina will set Molly straight with laughs, tears and some old-time religion. Corrina and Dad will then shock the bigoted neighbors and Manny’s Jewish parents with an interracial romance. If you think that sounds pretty steamy, think again. Director Jessie Nelson bogs down her semiautobiographical script with muffled emotions and molasses pacing.
Goldberg strains hard to compensate. Her “What’s up, girl?” sass has sparked many a movie, and it sure livens up this one. But it’s decades ahead of the script’s time period, as is Corrina’s hip psycho-babble. “Get mad,” she tells Molly, encouraging the kid to express her rage at her mother for dying by pounding a punching bag. Manny even joins in. It’s the kind of dysfunctional-family fodder you’d expect on Oprah, Phil or Geraldo.
The racial angle is similarly tame. Corrina’s ambition to write about music is thwarted by whitey in the publishing world. Manny is called a nigger lover. But there’s no grand passion. Nelson allows Corrina and Manny a chaste kiss, that’s all. Goldberg and Liotta are two live wires stuck in a virtuous afternoon TV special. Corrina, Corrina is just the same old yadda, yadda.