SWITCHED AT BIRTH (aka MISTAKEN IDENTITY)


Starring: Melissa Gilbert, Rosanna Arquette, David Andrews
Original Airdate: 1999
Genre: Drama/Family-In-Crisis


All right! A movie about babies switched at birth! I love this kind of stuff. Children in confusion, mothers in despair, uteruses that don't know which way is north anymore... it's the perfect formula for an engrossing TV-movie. I say we pass a law in the state of California demanding that ALL TV-movies must be about such subjects. And/or teen parents. Man, that's good television!

Mistaken Identity, according to the Internet Movie Database, was originally titled Switched At Birth, though it should not be confused with the 1991 TV-movie of the same title. In 1991's movie, the babies were girls and the mistake was discovered when they were in grade school. Then one of the girls died, so you can guess which one all the parents wanted. Hmmm, I'll take the LIVE ONE for 400, Alex! In this 1999 movie, they're boys, and both of them are very much alive. Let the Battle for the Babies begin!

Expectant parents James and Sarah Barlow are "antique-ing" in a small town when Sarah unexpectedly goes into labor. At the exact same time, Linda Wells, a single mom, is also having contractions. They end up giving birth practically in sync in this small-town hospital, where a frazzled nurse then accidentally switches the babies' ID bracelets. (The explanation we're to believe is that since this hospital is so small, and two babies have never been born at the same time before... hell, it's a miracle the mommies took home babies at all and not a tray of cafeteria food in swaddling clothes.) Linda, who gave birth naturally and saw her kid when it popped out, voices concern that she has the wrong child, but a nurse kindly patronizes her into silence. Sarah, who gave birth via C-Section, never knows the difference because the "wrong" baby is the first baby she ever sees.

James and Sarah go back to "The City" (recognizably Portland, Oregon!) with Linda's baby, who they name Morgan. Linda takes J&S's baby, names him Luke, and moves in with her parents. When the boys are about 18 months old, Linda's former flame, Darryl, comes back to town (he left after Linda announced she was pregnant.) When Darryl sees Luke, he insists he's not the father, as Luke looks nothing like him. Linda is furious. Paternity-testin' time! The tests come back to reveal that Darryl is not the father... and, uh, Linda isn't the mother. Whoopsie. Call the lawyers!

A phone call to James & Sarah alerts them that their little Morgan might not be "theirs" after all. Tests confirm this. James, Sarah, and Linda are devastated. Darryl smells an opportunity to cash in. He weasels his way back into Linda's life, much to the horror of just about everyone in the entire movie. He wants a piece of the hospital settlement. He wants publicity. Before long, he's convinced Linda to go for custody of both boys. Darryl is totally ridiculous, I must say.

The ending is a little too neat and a tad too predictable, but the writing, directing, and acting are as solid as can be. And yes, I'm strangely fascinated by these stories that pose difficult questions. If you found out you were accidentally raising someone else's child, would you want to switch the children back? Or would the bonds you'd already established with the child be too strong to ever do such a thing? And wouldn't you worry about how your biological child was being raised?

Who knew TV-movies could be so thought-provoking?





1/27/2007
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