Natalie Swedlow (Diane Keaton) and her daughter Sara (Alexa Davalos) certainly appear to have a close relationship. Mom will call and say, "Surrender, Dorothy," a reference to their yearly rituals of watching "The Wizard of Oz" when Sara was a kid. Mom will call up first thing in the morning on her cell phones and the two share a laugh as they let each other hear the sound of the man snoring in their bed. So they seem like a particularly close mother and daughter. The only thing is that it is always mom who makes the phone calls and always mom who uses the cute phrase. It would seem that only mom does not know that she is not on the same wavelength with her daughter.
Sara is spending the summer on the seashore in a place she rents with her friends. Her best gal pal is Maddy (Lauren German), who is married to Peter (Josh Hopkins), and who have a new baby. Sara's best guy pal is Adam (Tom Everett Scott), a playwright, who has a new lover, Shawn (Chris Pine). Things are going fine, except for the constant phone calls from her mom, and then there is a car accident and Sara ends up dead. Natalie is so distraught she does not let any of Sara's friends attend the funeral. In fact she is the only mourner there. But then three sleepless days and nights later Natalie shows up at the house with two bags of groceries, which is supposedly suppose to buy off her daughter's friends so that they will tell her what she wants to know about Sara's final days.
Peter argues for cutting Natalie some slack; after all, she just lost her daughter. But Adam, denied the opportunity to attend his best friend's funeral and rebuffed in his request to have a memento by which to remember Sara, wants her gone. Natalie sleeps for two days and then wakes up and starts cleaning, listening on Sara's headsets to her music and singing along. Sara was a student of Japan: she spoke the language, wore a kimono, and did the whole tea ceremony bit. So both figuratively and literally she was in a different world from her mother, who never seemed to notice. Natalie can dress in the kimono and sing in Japanese, but it does not bring her closer to her daughter. Instead it only hurts Sara's friends, who are also in the process of grieving and having to put up with Natalie's invasiveness and her personal attacks. The key dynamic here is that we feel sympathy for Natalie for her situation while at the same time deploring her actions.
Keaton's performance is what holds everything together here, but the teleplay by Matthew McDuffie based on Meg Wolitzer's novel, is one that keeps taking a step backwards to counter the step's forward. The basic situation is certainly dramatic, as a mother learns she did not know her daughter and then tries to catch up. But then we have a moment where Natalie is talking about Woody Allen's film "Interiors," which Keaton was in, and although it is not meant to be a moment of self-reflexivity it certainly becomes one. Then there is the function of convenience in this 2006 television movie, involving baby monitors and finding the one passage in a diary that goes right for the jugular. Even "The Wizard of Oz" bits get a bit heavy handed (either the red slippers or the cloud writing will strike you as being too much). Still, having Diane Keaton in this one forgives a lot of these missteps.