What Makes a Family

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What Makes a Family
Film poster
Written byRobert L. Freedman
Directed byMaggie Greenwald
Music byDavid Mansfield
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
Executive producers
ProducerWendy Grean
Production locationToronto
CinematographyRhett Morita
EditorKeith Reamer
Running time120 minutes
Production companies
Original release
  • January 22, 2001 (2001-01-22)

What Makes a Family is a 2001 American drama television film directed by Maggie Greenwald, written by Robert L. Freedman, and starring Brooke Shields, Cherry Jones, Anne Meara, Al Waxman, and Whoopi Goldberg. The film premiered on Lifetime on January 22, 2001.[1]


Based on a true story, the film involves a lesbian couple living in Florida who choose to have a child. Janine Nielsen and her partner, Sandy Cataldi, elect to conceive a baby via artificial insemination with Sandy as the biological mother. After the birth of their daughter Heather, Sandy is diagnosed with systemic lupus when she collapses at the baby's christening. The couple handles the disease for several years until Sandy dies. Following her death, Sandy's parents sue to gain custody of the child. Addressing moral, legal and ethical issues, Janine's lawyer, Terry Harrison, wins the custody battle after a video tape surfaces in which Sandy expressed her love for both Janine and Heather and her wish for them to stay together.



The film was directed by Maggie Greenwald and written by Robert L. Freedman. The executive producers were Barbra Streisand, Whoopi Goldberg, Cis Corman, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron.[2] Filming took place in Toronto.[1]


Ron Wertheimer of The New York Times praised several aspects of movie and stated: "Dripping with good intentions but enriched by performances of genuine depth, What Makes a Family, tonight on Lifetime, rises several notches above the usual based-on-a-true-story television movie."[3] Andy Webb of The Movie Scene gave the film three out of five stars, concluding: "What this all boils down to is that "What Makes a Family" was not the movie I expected and in some ways a far better one. Instead of being the legal drama about rights what you get is this pleasant drama about being a family and it works."[4]

What Makes a Family won one GLAAD Media Award in the category of "Outstanding Television Movie". The film was also nominated for one Humanitas Prize in the category of "90 Minute or Longer Cable Category".[5]


  1. ^ a b Oxman, Steven (January 21, 2001). "What Makes a Family". Variety. Retrieved June 13, 2023.
  2. ^ Wertheimer, Ron. "TELEVISION REVIEW; In This Fight Over Custody, Parents Loved Each Other" The New York Times, January 22, 2001
  3. ^ Wertheimer, Ron (22 January 2001). "TELEVISION REVIEW; In This Fight Over Custody, Parents Loved Each Other". The New York Times. Retrieved 24 May 2017.
  4. ^ Webb, Andy. "What Makes a Family (2001)". The Movie Scene. Retrieved 24 May 2017.
  5. ^ "Awards". IMDB. Retrieved 24 May 2017.

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