April 21, 1997 12:00 PM

HBO (Sun., April 20, 9 p.m. ET)

A

A gay man (Robert Sean Leonard) returns home after a long absence to die of AIDS. His father (David Strathairn) is clearly uncomfortable around him. His mother (Glenn Close) still dotes on him but no longer knows quite how to love him. His sister (Bridget Fonda) resents him. None of them says what they’re really feeling. “Everybody rationalizes,” the son observes. “It’s what happens when people don’t tell each other the truth.”

Not an original insight. In fact, much of this one-hour drama will seem familiar to those who remember the closed-off emotions of Ordinary People or the family AIDS crisis of An Early Frost. So why are we moved anew? Credit the sensitivity of Christopher Reeve—making his debut as a director two years after suffering a paralyzing spinal cord injury—and an acting ensemble that plays this somber chamber piece flawlessly. The scenes between Close and Leonard are poignant without being weepy, as parent and child strive to understand each other in the twilight of their relationship. With his sad eyes and eloquent body language, Strathairn wins sympathy for a starchy character who needs affection but has difficulty offering it. And Whoopi Goldberg shows her softer side in the small role of a nurse who does tell the truth, gently.

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