May 09, 2005 12:00 PM

DRAMA

CBS (Sun., May 1, 9 p.m. ET)

[STARS 2.5]

Her talk show is but a memory. Her magazine went down in flames and litigation. She lost $10 million producing a Boy George musical on Broadway. Rosie O’Donnell could use something nice about now. Maybe an Emmy.

In fact, she deserves award consideration for her portrayal of a developmentally challenged woman in this Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, based on a 2002 memoir by Rachel Simon. Though O’Donnell is performance occasionally gets a shade too cute—like her character’s mismatched pink and blue sneakers—the star conveys not only Beth Simon’s feisty spirit but an irritating self-centeredness that makes her hard to be around. You sense that O’Donnell is digging for the truth of this role, not just signaling the audience when to laugh or cry.

The rest of the film, unfortunately, is less convincing. Beth, who spends her days riding buses in a middle-size eastern city, is left adrift by her father’s death. When Beth’s sister, career-obsessed Rachel (Andie MacDowell), reluctantly comes to look after her, their conflicts play out in a predictable, almost perfunctory, manner. A writer-professor in real life, Rachel is depicted here as a fashion photographer, and she takes many prosaic pictures of Beth and gentle boyfriend Jesse (Judging Amy‘s. Richard T. Jones). Director Anjelica Huston also uses photos to cue flashbacks, as old snapshots trigger memories of Rachel and Beth’s turbulent childhood. We wonder that a broken home produced so many Kodak moments.

Rachel and her man (Peter Cockett) are on the outs, and a handsome, bighearted bus driver (D.W. Moffett) provides a possible alternative, but her love life seems like an afterthought. See Riding for Rosie or let it pass by.

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