9 p.m., Lifetime
In the Lifetime movie "Acceptance," Joan Cusack plays a St. John-clad, permanently clenched mom who wants her daughter to choose a college based on 1) academic excellence and 2) spousal potential. Not necessarily in that order.
In real life, Cusack was a lot luckier. Her father had more idealistic expectations of her academic career. "I remember my dad, who was awesome, saying to me, 'If you really want to act your whole life, you should go to college first,'" says Cusack. "He said I should learn about all the other wonderful things in the world and have great professors."
Her father, a documentary filmmaker who died in 2003, had to put off his own college adventures to fight in World War II. He enrolled at age 21. "He was a great lover of 18th century poetry, for some reason," says Cusack. "Who knows why. But he really appreciated college, and he wanted his kids to have that experience."
The Lifetime movie is a satiric look at how twisted the college application process can be. "It's about when ambition and competitiveness - those American ideals - get in the way of shaping true character," says Cusack.
In the movie, high school seniors create spread sheets to determine the likelihood of their getting into Harvard, sign up for an SAT-question-an-hour via cell phone, and get jealous of anyone who has charity work with lepers in Indian on their resume. The parents are even worse.
"Parents have a lot of anxiety letting go of their kids," says Cusack, who has two young sons. "They think that if they can get them into the best place they could possibly ever go, that will secure their life and they wouldn't have to worry about anything, which is really not real. It's destructive to your children to have them feel like if they're not the very best, then they don't mean anything. An Ivy League school doesn't guarantee that you're going to have a meaningful life. It's sad."
Cusack is also sad about the recent passing of John Hughes, who cast her and her brother John in 1984's "Sixteen Candles." "If he hadn't made his movies, I would never have gotten into this business," says Cusack. "You need a lucky break. It's not like, if you have talent, you'll get there. You need a lucky break, which gives you some confidence, and then you can build on that."
Hughes had an improvisational approach to his films, says Cusack, and he listened to his cast. "He saw that there were a long of great things, real things, going on in teenagers' lives."
Like Hughes, Cusack has always come home to the Chicago area, and is currently living downtown. "Chicago has always been a jewel, but I think, obviously, Obama has given it a certain prestige," says Cusack. "The fact that we are going to get the Olympics . . . Did you notice? I said 'we are going to get the Olympics.' I'm so proud of Chicago. It's not trying to be New York or L.A. There's room for life, there's room for creativity and for experimentation. There's all this incredible cultural heritage, and institutions and theater and neighborhoods. I'm so proud to live here."
Part of the reason that Cusack has such impressive voice-over credits ("Toy Story 2," "Chicken Little") is that she can do the work from Chicago. Her next goal? "I'm working really hard to get a TV show that they would do in Chicago," she says. "I'm working really, really hard on that."