Monday, July 4, 2011

Bringing Ashley Home

As of recent Lifetime Television has been releasing some pretty decent movies that were a part of their television movie line-up. One such movie is the release of Bringing Ashley Home. It is a rather meaningful story based on true events. It looks at the importance of homelessness and the serious effects of mental illness and those who love them who are searching through a system that seems to care little about the welfare of the individual.

In the 1980’s under the Ronald Reagan Administration there was the deinstitutionalization of numerous mental hospitals across the United States. Depending on whom you speak to will determine the consequences of those actions. Recently new federal legislation instituted what is known as federal HIPPA laws which supposedly protect the confidentiality of all individuals, including those with severe and persistent mental illnesses who are not comparable of taking care of themselves. Many family members, and some professionals and consumer groups will tell you many of these laws since the 1980’s have done more harm than good. Others will tell you they have resulted in an increase in suicides. Bringing Ashley Home is a movie, that while a made for television movie, does a terrific job at presenting of the hardships of this legislation.

Technically, it is obvious that outside of the acting, and a pretty good script, that Bringing Ashley Home is a made for television movie. There are the obvious edits which allowed for commercials. There is also the lighting, editing, and sound which are not quite up to par with theatrical release movies. The acting though, as is the case with numerous Lifetime releases is quite good. The movie focuses on the character Libba Phillips, played by A.J. Cook of Criminal Minds who is searching for her lost sister, who suffers with Bi-Polar Disorder (formerly known as Manic Depressive Disorder). The sister, Ashley is acted quite well by Jennifer Morrison noted for her role in the television series House.

The story starts with us seeing Ashley make a series of bad judgments, from the people she hangs out with, to the over indulgence of alcohol and other drugs. While not adequately explored in the show, this often takes place due to the the individual self medicating. Eventually Ashley leaves her family and gets lost in the system, even becoming homeless. Her sister Libba, the seemingly good sister where everything always works out decides to try and find Ashley after she disappears. Unfortunately she encounters a system that won’t share information and seems to not care about missing persons. Ashley encounters the horrors of the streets and the direction provided by Nick Copus has the viewer following the efforts of Libba to find Ashley, and then seeing the reality of the world Ashley lives in. The irony of this particular screening had me watching the movie with various homeless and mentally ill individuals who could unfortunately relate to the events and attitudes displayed on screen.

In the process we see what it takes for Libba to find her sister, and what she finds and discovers in the process. This has the character growing much like anyone would grow if they faced finding a loved one with mental illness or homeless. Libba is a character who is driven; we see that as she develops the organization Outpost for Hope. Outpost for Hope is a real life organization set on helping family members and loved ones find their lost and missing loved ones. The origination as detailed in the movie was established at a cost to Libba with the desire to help those facing a system they may not expect. The organization has effectively helped many and as we see Libba’s character develop, the viewer also has a better understanding of the needs displayed by the character of Ashley.

My faith tells me, ‘what you have done for the least of these, you have done for me’. That was Jesus speaking about himself and the work he expects his followers to do. The love and sacrifice required by Libba is rather outstanding by any standard. The story displays in a powerful way, that sometimes, standing up for right, and doing right requires sacrifice. It is those who have lost much that accomplish much. Libba is such a character; she loves beyond the acceptance of many, including family and friends. Fortunately, Libba understands that sacrifice is to be made by a civilized society. We should care more than we sometimes show regarding the homeless, mentally ill, and ultimately the men, women and children who go missing daily. While society has done a better job as of recent at giving the appearance of caring, it is ultimately those who love beyond reason that will make the difference for the missing and exploited of society. It is those who one by one go out of their way to establish organizations like Outpost for Hope. Is it easy to do these things? Certainly not! It is one of the reasons that followers of Jesus must also understand Jesus own words when he told them that they must take up their cross and follow him daily. It isn’t easy, but it is required.

As a whole I really appreciated the efforts of Bringing Ashley Home. There was one scene where Libba refers to the homeless in a negative way. It was frankly offensive to the homeless persons I watched the program with. They don’t see themselves as bums, rejects, drug addicts and so forth. While that is true for some, it is far from true for all. I don’t expect movies to always be sensitive to issues like this, but it was a strong enough statement that it did offend those watching the program. Thankfully, in the end, Libba realizes her calling is to help those who are missing, many of which are homeless. I felt the movie gave a fair representation of the struggles of those with mental illness and their families. I suspect, although I don’t know for sure, many family members of such organizations as The National Alliance for the Mentally Ill will appreciate this movie for the story it tells. They should because the story is an honest portrayal of the struggles they face.

This is one of those Lifetime movies that although it is a made for television movie, and not quite up to par to theatrical releases, that I would recommend for ownership. It would have been wonderful and appropriate to have special features on the DVD; it had none. It would have been nice to have a promotional spot for the organization, Outpost for Hope, homeless organizations, or organizations dealing with the plights of the mentally ill, including educational pieces. If Lifetime continues doing movies, which I suspect they will, I hope they take advantage of putting features on the DVD. Lifetime is a network making good movies, and the DVD’s can do more than just be good, they can do good. I hope in the future, Lifetime makes the effort to do good regarding special features.

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