March 08, 1993 12:00 PM

Albert Finney, Jill Clayburgh

Early on in this domestic drama, a 17-year-old girl arrives home from school to discover that her mother has deserted the family, leaving only a brusque note for her husband of 27 years. The daughter throws the note away and, hoping to ease her father’s pain, hastily writes a softer, more loving version. That second note, like the rest of this movie, stinks of the perfume of human kindness.

Rich in Love comes from the same team—producers Richard and Lili Fini Zanuck, director Bruce Beresford and screenwriter Alfred Uhry—that made Driving Miss Daisy, but Rich lacks the earlier film’s strong focus and social bite. In a movie that is supposed to be about how the various members of an eccentric family fall apart after the mother leaves, no one really suffers. Rich’s tone is warm and fuzzy, and not for a minute do you believe a single scene or character in it, except when Finney, as the abandoned husband, eats dinner by scooping peanut butter straight out of the jar.

Finney is clearly having a fine old time, wallowing in a Southern accent (the movie is set in Charleston, S.C.) that sounds like W.C. Fields. Clayburgh does her best as the footloose mother but is saddled with such groaners as “Our love had run to its conclusion.” Kathryn Erbe, in the pivotal role of the teenage daughter, is a find. Also in the cast are Suzy Amis, Kyle MacLachlan, Piper Laurie and Alfre Woodard, all of whom deserve better. (PG-13)

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