1963 Flashback Emma Bridges (Joanna Kerns) and her family are celebrating her 40th birthday on the boardwalk. Emma is happier than ever because she's surrounded by her husband and children. Her son Danny is at the shooting gallery where he has won a prize. Emma joins him as the Carney pulls out a tray of metal rings attempting to convince him that a wish ring (of Crackerjack quality) is more valuable than the big stuffed bear he has his eye on. After much consideration, Danny chooses the ring and gives it to his mother as a birthday present. The Carney tells Danny that the wish you desire will only last a month. Emma holds off on wishing because right now, she has everything that she could possibly desire. They walk towards the end of the pier to join her husband and daughter, where a photographer snaps a happy family picture.
Present Day Estranged from her family at the Heavenly Days Retirement Home, Emma, now 75, feels alone and abandoned. Mona (Della Reese), her man-hungry roommate, tries to fill the void, but something is lacking.
On her 75th birthday, Emma makes a wish to be reunited with her daughter Joy (Harley Jane Kozak) and her two grandchildren, Danny (named after Joy's brother) and his sister. As she blows out the candles on her birthday cake, an eerie wind sweeps through the dining room. As Emma stares at her son's wish ring from 1963, it feels warm on her aged hand. It reminds her of her 40th birthday on the boardwalk when her family was together. Since then, her son Danny has passed away and her marriage, so happy 35 years ago, has ended in a painful divorce. Although she cannot change the past, she would give anything to be a part of her daughter's life again.
When she wakes the following morning, she finds herself 35 years younger. Now being a young woman, along with the knowledge and experience of her 75 years, she has the opportunity to change her life. Emma is determined to make her wish come true and befriend her daughter Joy.
In the tradition of Mrs. Doubtfire, Emma poses as a nanny and goes to work for Joy. Emma learns Joy is on the verge of a divorce, separated from her husband Bryan (William Moses) because of a brief indiscretion. Joy's life is a struggle as she tries to juggle a new business as well as care for her two children. In Emma's new capacity as Joy's contemporary, she tries to reconnect her family's past with the present. In doing so, she'll rediscover herself and her daughter's perspective on life, love and parenting. Meanwhile, Mona tries to cover Emma's absence at the retirement home by telling a series of outlandish stories. Consequently, officials are investigating the possibility that Emma has been a victim of foul play.
Emma, with the time limit on her wish ticking away, can only hope to delay authorities long enough to mend her family. During her transformation, Emma is given the opportunity to see and understand her daughter in a new light. Her wish is a chance to use the wisdom of hindsight to help a daughter through a difficult time. Emma is convinced that Bryan still genuinely loves her daughter. He will do anything to get Joy back and Emma must risk everything to reunite them.
EMMA'S WISH stars Joanna Kerns ("Growing Pains") and Della Reese ("Touched By An Angel").
EMMA'S WISH is produced by Citadel Entertainment, LLC, an Alliance Atlantis Company, in association with The Kaufman Company. Teleplay by Cynthia Whitcomb, story by Paul A. Kaufman and Cynthia Whitcomb. Mike Robe directs and Michael 0. Gallant produces. Paul A. Kaufman is the executive producer. Alliance Atlantis will distribute worldwide except in the United States.
Have you ever wondered what your parents were like in their 20s and 30s? Take it one step further and imagine them the same age as yourself.
The genesis of Emma's Wish originated when executive producer Paul A. Kaufman's father passed away while Paul was in his 20s. "I often wondered what it would have been like to have a beer with my father not as the authoritarian figure that he was, but as a peer who was my age," says Kaufman.
From Kaufman's fantasy evolved the idea to do a story about a senior citizen that gets the chance to become thirty-five years younger to help reunite her troubled family. Continues Kaufman, "I think if given the chance, anyone would jump at the opportunity to be able to do that." Because of the obvious age difference, parents and children will always be on different planes, which often results in misunderstandings and estrangement. "If parents and children could be on the same playing field and talk it out, many issues could be solved and old wounds could be healed," says Kaufman. "That's what I hope people will get from Emma's Wish."
Says Joanna Kerns, "I think there is a universal wish that we remain close to our children to have an understanding and a connection with them. What's wonderful about this story is by Emma going back to fix her family, she sees that she's part of the problem and is able to change and grow herself."
"Many people have family situations similar to this," says producer Michael 0. Gallant (who had previously worked with Kaufman on APromise to Carolyn). "I was estranged from my mother for a few years. We have since reestablished a relationship and I feel lucky because my children will now know their grandmother and vice versa. I believe that this movie will bring out the importance of forgiveness and the fact that it's futile to remain bitter. Most people never have a second chance and if you get one, it's important not to let it slip away."
"The atmosphere on the set is something I haven't experienced on any other set," says Kaufman. "Joanna is wonderful because she's Emma on so many different levels. She can relate to her character because she herself has a twenty year-old daughter. She's definitely a trooper because the makeup process transforming her to the 75 year old Emma takes approximately five and a half hours to apply and ninety minutes to take off. With the skills of makeup wizard Todd Masters, he masterfully turns Joanna into a realistically looking senior citizen and that's no small task."
Comments Kerns, "When I first started acting, I appeared in a film where makeup artist Michael Westmore made me look like a man. That was my first experience with extensive makeup. However, being made to look older was much more painstaking. You have to be very detail oriented in order to make it look real. Todd took a cast of my entire head and sculpted the old Emma on that bust. Each day I would come to the set and see how my 'head' had aged. Each part of the face was built in pieces so I could move my face underneath. The costume designer also built a special outfit for me that would add inches and change my posture. I also had to be aware of my mannerisms, movements and voice. For that, I had a good teacher I studied my mother, who incidentally, got to appear in the film. In my makeup, we both looked the same age it was quite poignant."
The part of Mona was written with Della Reese in mind. Says Kaufman, "What can you say about Della? She's been on stage and screen with the best. We were so lucky with our timing because she was on hiatus from Touched by an Angel. Della's wisecracking, man-hungry Mona is played by her with abandon, and her outfits are really outrageous."
Harley Jane Kozak plays Joy, Emma's daughter. "When Harley auditioned as Joy, you really thought that she and Joanna were mother and daughter at the same age," says Kaufman. "It was nice to realize that our script was going to work on that level."
Rounding out the cast is William Moses as Bryan, Joy's estranged husband. Moses starred recently on Fame L.A., Melrose Place, and costarred in the updated Perry Mason series starring the late Raymond Burr. Veteran Academy Award nominated actor Seymour Cassel plays Harry, Emma's exhusband. "Seymour's scenes reminded me of Terms of Endearment," says Gallant. "One minute you're laughing and the next, tears are welling up in your eyes. It's a rollercoaster of emotion."
Filming began at the famed Santa Monica Pier for the opening scene that takes place in 1963. The crew returned to the Pier for scenes that featured a transformed Emma and her estranged family. The Kensington Retirement Home in Alhambra (in the San Gabriel Valley) was home to Emma and Mona. With the money the retirement home received from the production's location fee, the administration bought a bus for their residents and named it EMMA'S WISH.
Other locations included the Studio City Recreation Center in Studio City, the Sherman Oaks Galleria, a nursery in Calabasas, a house in Woodland Hills and a fair in Canoga Park.
Summing up the production, Gallant remarks, "It's nice to work on something that has heart, human drama and a Capraesque fantasy feeling to it."
Continues Kaufman, "There's something magical about this story. When the script was first being drafted, the name Elkan was used as one of the partners in the law firm. Elkan just happened to be my father's first name, unbeknownst to the writer. It was very surreal since my father was my inspiration for this story. To top it off, my daughter Emma was born the day we got the go-ahead from CBS to make this movie. So I think there's a mystical power watching over this production."
Emma's Wish Television Review
October 16, 1999
By RAY RICHMOND
If Hallmark Hall of Fame ever decided it had to do a knockoff of "Mrs. Doubtfire," it would look an awful lot like this heart-warming but cloying fantasy telepic from Paul A. Kaufman and Citadel Entertainment about a 75-year-old woman who is able to turn back her physiological clock 35 years and land a nanny job in order to save her daughter's wounded marriage. Not exactly Robin Williams in drag, but then, "Emma's Wish" seems more interested in selling us wholesale implausibility than biting comedy.
Here's the deal: A granny named Emma Bridges (Joanna Kerns wearing a ton of cakedon makeup) who is estranged from her only daughter Joy (Harley Jane Kozak) makes a wish during her 75th birthday party that somehow activates a 35-year-old wish commitment granted her during a carnival by her nowdeceased son. Still with us? OK, so she wakes up the next morning looking like she did on that day in 1963, inspiring her manhungry nursing home roommate Mona (Della Reese) to freak.
Soon enough, Emma has blown that elderly Popsicle stand, cleaned out her checking account purchased an oldstyle VW Bug convertible, purchased snazzy new fashions and set out to repair Joy's marriage after Joy's husband Bryan (William Moses) is caught philandering. The catch: She has only a month before her old geriatric self kicks back in.
It's here that things really start to get weird in Cynthia Whitcomb's hackneyed teleplay, which asks the audience to suspend a tad too much disbelief. Emma, for instance, is able to wrangle a nanny job in the home of her daughter and two grandkids without anyone wondering why she happens to look exactly like grandma did 35 years ago. No one even much questions it when grandma (who now calls herself Mame, switching around the letters of Emma) starts meddling in everyone's business, changing around the furniture and rummaging through boxes of old photos.
Pretty soon, the cops are looking for the supposedly missing Emma Bridges. But it never occurs to the daughter that this woman living in her house bears a striking resemblance to her mom's unknown 40 year-old twin. Joy also doesn't seem overly concerned that her mother has been missing for weeks now. Is it denial or apathy? We're never sure.
At least in "Mrs. Doubtfire we could buy that Williams' wife and kids may not recognize him in his nifty disguise. There is no such easy leap to be made in "Emma's Wish," and while its alternately lighthearted and weepy tone asks us not to take anything too literally, it's still difficult to work up much empathy when everyone seems to be stumbling around behind blinders.
Telepic vet and "Growing Pains" alumna Kerns turns in her usual convincing, soulful performance, using her puppydog eyes to great effect. Reese is superb in her now trademark feisty senior role ("Touched By a Geritol Tablet"), and Kozak is very good as the world-weary grownup. Helmer Mike Robe keeps everyone sharp.
Yet there's just too much in "Emma's Wish" that strains credibility to allow for the film's highly cultivated sensitive side to grab you. And is having your mother suddenly 35 years younger and living under the same roof really something many people would wish for? Tech credits are solid.
October 15, 1998
By Marilyn Moss
A pleasant romance is one thing, but an anemic one is another. "Emma's Wish," from Citadel Entertainment LLC. in association with the Kaufman Co., has a good heart and soul, but despite the fine company of Joanna Kerns as Emma, the story is so simpleminded that it remains a mere trifle.
Most of "Emma's" problem stems from Cynthia Whitcomb's uneventful script, which leaves its characters sugarcoated and looking high and low for any emotional confrontation. In the prologue, we meet Emma as a young mother celebrating her birthday with her husband and two kids on a pier in L.A. Next, she's livinging in a retirement home about to celebrate her 75th birthday. Divorced, Emma lost her son in a car accident and is estranged from her daughter (Harley Jane Kozak), who is strapped with two kids and separating from her own husband.
Emma pulls out a forgotten cheap, plastic ring from her jewelry box (her young son won it on the pier lo those many years ago) and zap! Quicker than you can say "Big," she transforms back into a 40 year-old beauty who gets a job as her daughter's housekeeper (a daughter who doesn't recognize her own mother?) to help tighten their relationship. She has one (very uneventful) month before turning back into a pumpkin.
Although dubbed "lighthearted" by its producers, "Emma" is such whipped cream (despite director Mike Robe's affection for Emma) that the actors all but float aimlessly in their narrative space.
Kerns finds age a treat in "Emma's Wish"
Orange County Register
October 18, 1998
BY Jay Robbines
If youth is wasted on the young, that's not the case for Joanna Kerns, especially after her latest role.
The actress-director takes on a much older appearance to make the fantasy work in "Emma's Wish," a fanciful new CBS movie.
Kerns plays a retirement home resident who spends her 75th birthday without relatives, especially since she's not on good terms with her daughter (Harley Jane Kozak). She wants to resolve the differences between them, and the elderly Emma gets that chance when she's magically given the look of a 40 year-old.
She then poses as a nanny to her grandchildren (Courtland Mead, Jenne Allen), hoping to use the wisdom of her true age to influence her daughter. Della Reese appears as Emma's roommate, who tries to cover for her in her absence, and William Moses plays Kozak's unhappy husband.
Younger actresses rarely get to play senior citizens, and Kerns jumped at the chance: "I only (act in) one TV movie a year now, so I'm very careful about what I do. You can be good at playing the 'everywoman,' but finding and developing unique material is always a challenge. I think the idea that you can get a second chance, especially with your children, is kind of a universal wish."
"It was a real challenge to do this on a TV-movie schedule," adds "Growing Pains" alumna Kerns, "especial ly with six-hour makeup sessions. (Director) Mike Robe and I did a lot of talking about how we were going to accomplish the look and get the different stages of it on the screen."
Kerns describes Emma as "a rigid woman with lots of rules. She wants to fix her daughter's life, but what she gets is entirely different." That might sound like an episode of costar Reese's CBS show "Touched by an Angel." "It has that sentimentality, and I think that's what that show has found an audience for," Kerns says. "People want to feel better, like they can heal."
Playing someone three decades her senior wasn't that difficult for Kerns. "I come from the stage, so I'm one of those actresses who has always found a character not just from the inside out. That's a very English way of working. You do a lot of research, and you're never sure what's going to stick." The prosthetics did, and Kerns was in on the makeup decisions from the start. "It was an amazing process. By the time they were finished with me, I felt 90."
Kerns' parents, who are in Emma's age range, live in a retirement home. "I'm around those people all the time," Kerns says. "When I knew I was going to do this part, I started collecting little 'things' from them, like what my mother would do with her hands, and what happens to your voice at that age."
Being a director herself helped Kerns while making "Emma's Wish." She says, "Every actor should do the job of everyone else on a set at least once, just to know what they're up against. To be good as an actor, you have to focus on what you do, and the only way to do that is to block everybody else out and have no consciousness of their jobs.
"The privilege of having done a series as successful as 'Growing Pains'," she says, "means I don't have to do anything I don't want to."
Kerns gets what she wants in Emma's Wish
October 18, 1998
By Suzzane Gill
It's not every week there's a movie about a couple of elderly ladies who've taken up residence in a nursing home without losing interest in life.
Della Reese and Joanna Kerns play the geriatric roommates in Emma's Wish airing Sunday, Oct. 18, on CBS.
Kerns, who starred in Growing Pains from 1985 to 1992, plays 75 year-old Emma Bridges, who blows out her birthday candles with a wish that she might come to the aid of her daughter (Harley Jane Kozak), who is trying to raise two children, start a business and deal with a marriage in cnsis. As Emma's irrepressible pal, Mona, Reese gives the film a welcome injection of attitude.
With its sentimentsoaked message about forgiveness of self and others, Emma's Wish asks considerable suspension of disbelief as Emma first comes young through the magic of her wish. then gets hired, Mrs. Doubtfire-style, as her daughter's housekeeper. Calling herself Mame, she encounters only the most perfunctory trial period before shifting into mother-confessor mode.
Back at the nursing home, Mona is doing her best to cover for her friend.
With Wish, Kerns takes a risk portraying a much older woman, but remains more convincing as Mame, the radiant 40 year-old zipping around Southern California in a vintage Volkswagen convertible.
Kozak's performance is easy to overlook alongside Kerns' star aura, but viewers will appreciate the realism of her pain.
The sum of these parts isn't perfect alchemy, but a little magic is enough to make Emma's Wish satisfying viewing.