LITTLE GIRL LOST: THE DELIMAR VERA STORY
The story depicts the struggle of Luz Cuevas (Judy Reyes) to find her baby daughter, Delimar Vera Cuevas, who disappeared in 1997 after their Philadelphia row house caught fire during a party. The police reported that Delimar was killed in the fire. However, Cuevas suspects that she was kidnapped, and that the fire was staged by an outsider.
When she told her story to the police nobody believed her and her husband, Pedro (Hector Luis Bustamante), also thought she was crazy, leading to their divorce.
Six years after the fire, Cuevas meets Valerie†Valleja (Ana Ortiz), who was at the party on the day of the fire. She has a six year old girl with her. The girl bore resemblance to Cuevas' other children, and she suspects it is Delimar.
Luz, was able to get the girl alone and take a cutting of her hair. She then went to the police but was dismissed again until she sought the help of Angel Cruz, a City Councilman.† He agreed to help her.
Cuevas brings an investigation against Valleja, and finds out that the girl is in fact Delimar through a DNA test.
By BRIAN LOWRYAug 14, 2008
Filmed in Vancouver by Front Street Pictures and the Kaufman Co. in association with TF1 Intl. Executive producers, Paul A. Kaufman, Harvey Kahn, Joey Plager, Larry Thompson; director, Kaufman; writers, Christopher Canaan, Maria Nation; story by Canaan.
Luz Cuevas - Judy Reyes
Valerie Valleja - Ana Ortiz
Angel Cruz - A Martinez
Pedro Vera - Hector Luis Bustamante
Tatita - Marlene Forte
Aaliyah/Delimar Vera - Jillian Bruno
Representing the kind of ripped-from-the-headlines melodrama the networks used to make, "Little Girl Lost" telegraphs where it's going -- but you'd still have to be a pretty heartless bastard to resist becoming a little choked up at the end. Producer-director Paul A. Kaufman gets a terrific performance from Judy Reyes ("Scrubs") as the working-class Philadelphia mother convinced her baby daughter didn't perish in a house fire but was instead abducted. Although the pic runs short on fuel at times, it's a notch above the recent crop of Lifetime hanky-wavers.
The fact-based story is the stuff cable news execs wallow in and dream about, with missing kids as a go-to hook with which to tantalize soccer moms. Here, Luz Cuevas (Reyes) and her husband (Hector Luis Bustamante, also first-rate) throw a Christmas party that gets out of hand before a fire rips through the second floor. The couple and their boys make it out all right, but their infant daughter doesn't.
Luz, however, is sure the baby was nabbed, having seen an open window that she distinctly remembers closing. Nobody believes her, and she spends six years living with guilt and doubt before encountering a young girl -- the daughter of a casual acquaintance ("Ugly Betty's" Ana Ortiz) that attended the party -- whom Luz believes is in fact her daughter.
Thwarted at every turn by dismissive authorities and skeptical family, an exhausted Luz eventually approaches a local congressman, Angel Cruz (A Martinez), who's about to give her the brushoff before she says, "There comes a day when you can't take one more 'Come back tomorrow.' " Once he's enlisted, the narrative slows substantially and injects a bit too much "CSI: Philadelphia" into the proceedings before rallying in the final reel.
Obviously, there's a slightly anticlimactic quality to a yarn with this title, but Reyes brings such conviction to her underdog role that the movie -- much like the character -- powers through most of the impediments. There's also the question of whether the family can survive the rift created by her refusal to let go.
As an aside, the movie shares its name with a classic "Twilight Zone" episode, in which a child eerily vanishes into a parallel dimension. In this case, she merely disappears into an uncaring city, lending credence to W.C. Fields' old gravesite line "Better here than Philadelphia."
Camera, Mathais Herndl; production designers, Peter Andringa, Hitoshi Okamoto; editor, Lisa Binkley; casting, Donald Pemrick, Candice Elzinga. RUNNING TIME: 120 MIN.
††††††††††††††††††††† † † † †† †
By RAY RICHMONDAug 14, 2008
A compelling fact-based tale of deception, despair -- and ultimately triumph
"Little Girl Lost: The Delimar Vera Story"
Airdate: 8-10 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 17 (Lifetime Movie Network).
Even by Lifetime standards, the original telepic "Little Girl Lost: The Delimar Vera Story" (which actually premieres on the companion Lifetime Movie Network) is wrenching, heavy-duty stuff that largely honors a real-life tale with earnestness and realism.
Mostly, anyway. It invariably succumbs to heartstring tugging during the final half-hour, but by then we're pretty much hopelessly hooked even though we know where this is heading from the get-go. I mean, they don't do movies about mothers who don't get their stolen daughters back in the end -- at least ones that get financed. But while this one degenerates into tidy simplicity during the denouement, it successfully holds you in its thrall as something of a, well, cautionary tale.
The film is bolstered by surprisingly effective performances by a couple of actresses whom we wouldn't necessarily associate with drama given their highest-profile roles. Judy Reyes, the sassy nurse Carla from the NBC comedy "Scrubs," and Ana Ortiz, the mouthy big sister on ABC's "Ugly Betty," show some impressive dramatic chops here in performances that serve up nary an ounce of comedy. Reyes is Luz Cuevas, a working-class Philadelphia mom with two boys and a loving husband (Hector Luis Bustamante) whose world is turned upside-down (not to mention inside-out) when their infant daughter, Delimar, is presumed killed in a devastating fire at their home.
When Luz suspects that her baby is in fact alive, having disappeared prior to the fire, she's dismissed as nutty, of course. It costs her her marriage and her sanity. But she never gives up the fight, believing that her distant cousin Valerie (Ortiz) snatched the girl and started the fire to cover her tracks. A six-year test of heart, soul and persistence ensues, with a sympathetic politician (A Martinez) coming to her aid and ultimately proving to be the dedicated angel she's been looking for. But what isn't always clear in the teleplay from Christopher Canaan and Maria Nation is that it's when this war is won that the real battle begins, the one to convince a confused, devastated 6-year-old girl that her mommy isn't really her mommy and that she'll now be living with these strangers until she's an adult. Oh, and by the way kid, you have a different name now, too.
There is a cursory attempt to deal with the emotional fallout at the conclusion, but it's all supposed to be fixed with a lengthy hug, which doesn't really ring true. The other issue that doesn't quite resonate is the fact that this isn't generally the way these situations play out in the real world. Mothers who suspect that their daughter was stolen are typically merely paranoid and in denial. It's hoped that what goes down in "Little Girl Lost" doesn't spark a rash of women claiming bogus parentage. But again, beyond that, the film is powerful and genuine and bolstered by some exceptional work from Reyes, Ortiz and really the entire cast.
Production: Lifetime in association with TF-1 International. Executive producers: Paul A. Kaufman, Harvey Kahn, Joey Plager, Larry Thompson. Writers: Christopher Canaan, Maria Nation. Director: Paul A. Kaufman. Cast: Judy Reyes, Ana Ortiz, A Martinez, Hector Luis Bustamante, Marlene Forte, Jillian Bruno, Anthony Harrison, David Canales-Zorrilla, Chris Duran, Alejandro Chavarria. Director of photography: Mathais Herndl. Production designers: Peter Andringa, Hitoshi Okamoto. Costume designer: Carmen Bonzelius. Editor: Lisa Binkley. Casting: Donald Pemrick, Candice Elzinga.
By MIKE HUGHES
"...it's one of the best TV movies in years."
"Paul Kaufman has directed a superb cast, led by Judy Reyes ("Scrubs") as Luz, Hector Bustamante as her husband and Ana Ortiz ("Ugly Betty") as his distant cousin."
By David Hinckley
"...tearjerking and ultimately triumphant movie."
By LEN FELDMAN
"Judy Reyes turns in an inspirational Emmy-worthy performance."
† † † † † † † † † † † † † † † † † ††
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