Customer Reviews: The Russell Girl - Hallmark Hall of Fame
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VINE VOICEon April 11, 2008
This touching film about wounds left untended and the anguish caused by their neglect is a quietly touching drama. Amber Tamblyn gives an underplayed and very real performance as Sarah Russell. She seems numb upon hearing crushing news from a doctor. Returning home where she's loved would seem a natural move under the circumstances. But a tragedy more painful than the imperfections in her blood hang over her return.

Elizabeth Mastrantonio is Sarah's mother, who thinks Sarah is just there for a visit to share good news about college. Her head-in-the-sand optimism prompts Sarah's silence on both fronts. Her mother is so deeply troubled herself, unwilling to confront the past tragedy, that she cannot see or hear the anguish in Sarah's actions or words, and is blind to just how much her daughter is hurting.

Amber Tamblyn is marvelous in this Hallmark film in conveying the unspoken torment she lives with each day. Sarah tries to doctor those wounds with an attempt to connect with the woman who lives across the street. It is she who refers to Sarah as, "the Russell girl." Jennifer Ehle is quite marvelous as the other mother who has never truly dealt with what happened.

While rekindling a high school romance, Sarah makes slow progress and finds that repairs to her car and a wooden box are much simpler than fixing a damaged heart. An excellent script and touching performances with the ring of truth make this film deeply moving, rather than maudlin. It also offers hope that wounds finally brought out into the open and talked about have a chance at healing. A fine drama for the entire family.
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on March 19, 2008
Hallmark Hall of Fame films have the well-deserved reputation of being tearjerkers, and this film does not deviate from that classic Hallmark formula. Thematically, this film probes the role of guilt and blame and tacitly questions whether guilt and blame serve any productive purpose.

I watched this film with one of my best friends and her husband. My friend once told me point blank that she refuses to watch "i am Sam" with me when I suggested this rental option because she said that my uncontrollable crying (which I am famous for during movies) is as upsetting to her as the film's content. So, why she agreed to watch a Hallmark movie with me was more due to her celebrity worship of Amber Tamblyn (of Joan of Arcadia fame; my friend actually started petitions to get this series to remain on the air) than tolerance for my emotional outpouring.

Sarah Russell learns that she has cancer and needs immediate, aggressive treatment if she is to survive. She leaves the Chicago area (where she's been working at Macy's while waiting to hear if she got into Northwestern University Medical School) for a prolonged visit to her parents, ignoring urgent phone calls from her doctor to follow through with appointments. One of Sarah's across-the-street neighbors doesn't seem happy that she's come home. Jennifer Ehle (of Pride & Prejudice fame) plays Lorainne, a distraught housewife who has an ax to grind with Sarah. We don't learn 'til later why Lorainne is so actively hostile towards Sarah.

Possible spoilers...
Sarah is unsure whether she should treat her cancer because she is confused with whether karma wants to take her life in exchange for an accidental death that occurred while she was babysitting. Sarah's attention was divided between a pair of squabbling brothers in the TV room and the baby she had been feeding in the adjacent kitchen. Unfortunately, the baby's highchair was movable, and the baby managed to move herself through the unlatched basement door in a matter of seconds. She fell fatally down the basement stairs before Sarah could get to her.

Sarah's mother wrongfully assumes that therapy isn't necessary and that Sarah will get over the traumatic experience once she goes off to college. Sarah hasn't forgotten and is crippled with guilt over the incident. Lorainne is crippled with blame, anger, and depression. She alternately blames Sarah, her sons for distracting Sarah's attention, the broken door latch, and a sundry of "if only" circumstances. Her sons only have a shadow of their former mother as she continually mourns the death of her baby daughter. Lorainne's husband is very supportive, and he's unsure how best to help his wife recover. He initially tells Sarah to stay away from his wife. (In the end, however, he is instrumental in mediating a reconciliation between Sarah and Lorainne).

Sarah seeks out Lorainne, visiting her at-home antique refinishing workshop. Sarah and Lorainne have a lot of back-and-forth confrontations, and Lorainne continues to blame Sarah to her face for the accident. While shopping downtown one afternoon, Lorainne sees Sarah faint. Lorainne begins to suspect that Sarah is ill. Sarah still hasn't told her family about having cancer, and she is almost resolved to passively die from the disease by dodging treatment. Lorainne is the first person whom Sarah confides in about her illness. Lorainne also sees that Sarah has been tormented by the accidental death as much as she has been. The five or so years since the incident hasn't numbed the pain or either woman's feeling of responsibility.

My friend complained that the pacing dragged with all of the back-and-forth meetings between Sarah and Lorraine; however, I thought that this choice of pacing mirrored real life. For the most part, people don't instantly heal or resolve serious conflict in a few short meetings. This movie took the time to let the women sort out their issues. Sarah commissions Lorraine a project to restore a heirloom box. This restoration is symbolic of the repairing of their relationship.

It's not until Howard, Lorainne's husband, points out to both women that Sarah couldn't be two places at once, that Lorainne begins to outwardly acknowledge that a complexity of circumstances (besides blaming Sarah or her sons) led to the tragedy and reconsiders if her blame everyone strategy is really helping her to heal. She remembers how young Sarah was at the time and how she had tried to act "so grownup" in response to the accident. She regrets the dollar that she didn't spend to replace the broken door latch. Lorainne finally reconsiders her whole mindset in response to the death of her daughter.

Lorainne insists that Sarah tell her family about the cancer. At a party celebrating her acceptance to medical school, Lorainne bursts in and confronts Sarah and forces her to tell her mother about the cancer. Lorainne no longer wants some horrible form of karma to avenge the accidental death of her daughter. Whatever needed to be worked out between these women seems to have happened. In fact, Howard notices that Lorainne refers to Sarah by her given name for the first time since the accident. Usually, she referred to Sarah contemptuously as "the Russell Girl."

In order for Lorainne to begin to make sense of the tragedy and begin to heal, she had to let go of the urge to blame and hate. In order for Sarah to heal, she had to let go of guilt and self-hatred. If blame and guilt serve a productive purpose, then this movie is not where you'll find support for those attitudes. "The Russell Girl"'s unspoken conclusion is beautifully rendered in this drama: if you want to let go of something dreadful and move on, you need to let go of the dark side of human nature's tendency towards hatred, guilt, and blame. My own experiences echo this movie's theme: you are just going to keep hurting yourself if you feel unwarranted guilt or blame others for your circumstances. "The Russell Girl" delivers food for thought, and yes, plenty of Hallmark tears.
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on March 17, 2010
I never, ever cry in movies...not The Notebook, not in Beaches, Terms of Endearment. But this one really got to me. Maybe because it's so relatable. Who hasn't gotten stuck at some point wondering "if only..." or as one character in the movie put it, "bad things happen to good people?". The whole movie is heartbreaking and Amber Tamblyn's acting is so genuine as the tragic girl searching for redemption.
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on May 18, 2014
I have never seen a Hallmark movie I didn't like and this one was no disappointment. I like the actors that played in this movie. It was happy and sad. I gave this movie 5 stars because anyone would enjoy this movie.
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on March 25, 2013
Whenever I purchase a Hallmark Hall of Fame DVD I am never disappointed. I enjoyed the wonderful acting in this movie, and the story line was of forgiving oneself, and others. This portrayal of a young woman's emotional plight was warm and enlightening as sometimes it is easier to forgive others, but yourself is much more difficult. Until she forgave herself, she couldn't go on with her life. Guilt is also many times coming from outside sources, which makes it a challenge to be able to heal.
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on February 23, 2014
I watched this movie every time it came on TV. My sister's cable provider doesn't carry the channel so I ordered the DVD to give her. I thought I would order me one also so I could watch it anytime. Love the movie and highly recommend it. Shows true meaning of forgiveness.
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on January 29, 2014
This movie is a heart wrenching drama about a tragedy that a young woman, dealing with leukemia,
cannot move past. It keeps your attention. The movie arrived in excellent shape and was delivered
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on July 6, 2010
Knowing what the movie was based upon, I wasn't sure I wanted to see it. I like to laugh and forget my troubles when I am "entertained", but now and then I enjoy something deeper and more meaningful. This movie is one of those emotional, insightful experiences.


Amber Tamblyn is incredible in her portrayal of a very young woman who believes she is getting what she deserves when she receives a diagnosis of cancer. Her ability to convey the vulnerability, the longing, and the fear of her character without so much as a word is incredibly effective. She plays Sarah Russell, who was the babysitter of her neighbor's children six years ago when an unfortunate accident occurred and the one-year-old died. This is shown in flashback as she remembers the events. Now she is going home, but is met with an unexpected turn of events as soon as she arrives.

The turmoil she goes through as she struggles with her guilt over the past, the secret of her illness, and the obvious pain her return has caused her neighbor is heart-wrenching.

Jennifer Ehle turns in an emotional performance as the mother of the child who had died. She thought she was coping, but seeing Sarah again brings her pain and anguish bubbling to the surface and she must face the fact that she has not really coped at all and her whole family has suffered for it. As she heals, she also becomes instrumental in helping Sarah forgive herself and face her future.

The entire supporting cast contributes to the quality of this production, and though watching it is a very emotional journey, in a way it is a cathartic one. If you like "happily-ever-after" endings with no loose ends, you may be bothered a little that things aren't quite portrayed that way. Not that anything bad happens at the end, they just don't bring everything together in a nice little package and show how everything works out. I do believe, however, that the ending leaves a message of hope that the future will be brighter.
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on February 5, 2013
One of the most heartbreaking yet healing movies that I have ever seen. I wanted to see it because I like Amber Tamblyn (Sisterhood Of The Travelling Pants), and she was great! My surprise was the performance of Jennifer Ehle, she stole my heart, first with her grief and then with her forgiveness: with all of her grief, she has room in her heart to forgive and to be the healer to the girl that she totally blamed in the beginning------------a girl who cannot FORGIVE HERSELF, and needs Ehle's help in moving towards self-forgiveness. Did I love it?, Yes.-------- Will I always love it?, yes.------- Will I watch it A LOT?, No, because I am retired and live on a Social Security check an so I cannot afford to !!,----- Oh it's NOT the cost of the electricity, that is negligible, it's the cost of the tissues!!-------tissues are expensive !!!, so unless you have a heart of stone,(in which case you would not be reading a review of such a movie!!),be prepared for unexpected paper product expenditure!!
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on February 18, 2014
I wasn't sure if I would like this movie or not, but once I saw it , I absolutely loved it. what a great story about forgiveness and healing, even in the midst of tragedy and illness.
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