The women are young, middle-aged, black, white, a lawyer and a stripper. Breast cancer knows no boundaries, and that comes across in the stories told in Lifetime's compelling "Five," airing Monday, Oct. 10. Five women, at different stages in life and with different stages of cancer, are shown in five stories told by five different directors: Jennifer Aniston, Alicia Keys, Demi Moore, Patty Jenkins and Penelope Spheeris.
The film's one constant is Pearl (Jeanne Tripplehorn, "Big Love"). The movie opens on July 20, 1969, with Pearl as a girl. Her mom (Ginnifer Goodwin) is dying of breast cancer, and her grandmother (Annie Potts, giving credence to the old line that there are no small roles) tells her that her mom has a cold.
No one knows how to deal with the death of a young mother as the family gathers and distractedly watches Neil Armstrong take that giant leap for mankind.
Tripplehorn captures the intelligence and compassion that make a great doctor. Her research for the role included talking to an oncologist.
"I felt a little more confident knowing there are people like Pearl," she says.
Pearl, by nature, is a quiet role. For wickedly fun drama, however, Patricia Clarkson's Mia is stunning. Mia's longtime husband abandons her while she is sick from chemo. She's bold enough to throw her own funeral and says what she really thinks of those attending.
Mia has that brutal honesty of those who run out of time. She drinks a bottle of Cristal a day, fritters away her savings and lives life as if each day were her last because it could be.
It's not spoiling anything to say that this segment ends happily because Mia's story is told with the ending first.
"And then I live and marry Tony Shalhoub," Clarkson says. "Who would not want to marry Tony Shalhoub?"
Aniston directed this segment, and Clarkson says, "She's timeless and infinitely talented, and I said to her, 'You are good as a director! S... you! Go stand in the corner.' Great actors make great directors."
"When you see the whole piece, it is brutal," Clarkson says. "All have been cut down to just the emotional life. Each is 20 minutes, and in that span of time, you travel a distance."
In "Lili," Rosario Dawson plays a successful attorney with an overbearing but loving mother (the extraordinary Jenifer Lewis) and dutiful sister (Tracee Ellis Ross). Lili needs a lumpectomy, and her mother and sister stand by her.
Only one story seemed stilted: Cheyanne (Lyndsy Fonseca) is a stripper in need of a double mastectomy, and her husband, who revels in her sexiness, has to convince her that she must have the surgery. She's terrified of how she will look and if he will still love her. She's still gorgeous; he still adores her.
Besides playing the doctor to the women with breast cancer, Pearl finds out from her doctor (Bob Newhart) that she has it.
"It's such a painful subject matter," Tripplehorn says. "With scripts like this, I didn't want it to be maudlin and melodramatic. It's tricky."
The women involved, including executive producer Marta Kauffman ("Friends"), all say that if one woman watching has a mammogram as a result of the film, it will have done its job.
"Get that mammogram," Tripplehorn says. "When I was doing it, and I realized I had been working on 'Big Love' and I realized it had been a while."
"I did it while shooting," Clarkson says of going for her X-rays. "There can't be irony here. Shame on me if there is -- I had a breast scare early on."
Lifetime's 'Five' rates a 10
Patricia Clarkson stars in "Five" Monday on Lifetime.