James Lapine’s Fran’s Bed is as pretty, and as empty, a theatrical event as you’re likely to see this year, a stylishly turned puzzle about a woman (Mia Farrow) who, having seen a modestly uninteresting life through into middle age, suddenly gives up living. She takes to her bed, gets hooked on painkillers, and finally lapses into a coma. Her apathetic, work-driven husband (Harris Yulin) is no more than marginally interested in her state; their two daughters, a big-city career girl (Julia Stiles) and a homebound divorcée (Heather Burns), are distraught but almost too busy acting out their old sibling rivalry to be much help. A dogged, Bible-toting Jamaican caregiver (Brenda Pressley) is the only one to function as a sustaining force, largely for her own fundamentalist reasons.
Rather than explore this somber matrix, Lapine uses it as an excuse for showbiz manipulation, fragmenting it to flash back and forward like the movie-of-the-week it often suggests, allowing Farrow to wander about as an animated version of the inanimate figure her family gazes at in an upstage hospice bed. The results don’t convey much more than the soap operas perpetually droning on the over-bed TV, or the sitcoms from which, when Lapine’s touch gets heavy-handed, the family bickering seems to have strayed. Despite the sweetness and grace of Farrow’s presence, and the intensity Yulin and Pressley bring to their roles, Fran’s Bed is mainly a source of zzz’s.