Nearly every scene in the first third of “Mary and Martha” is part of a big old set-up. You, the viewer, are going to have your heart busted up, but first the writer and director of this HBO movie need to get you to invest and care. They need to make you love the characters, to seduce you with cutesiness and happy innocence, all before the sorrow train pulls into the station. Every shot of that noble little boy with plaintive eyes, every mention of his passion for pizza, is booby-trapped; later they will spring at you and tug rather aggressively at your heartstrings.
“Mary and Martha,” which premieres Saturday night at 8, is a movie motivated by good intentions — always a difficult proposition. It was written, by Richard Curtis of “Notting Hill” and “Love Actually,” to increase awareness of the hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths from malaria every year. It contains some statistics, but it’s more of a straight-up emotional plea for attention and resources. But you know how these things often go — you cheer for the cause, but are you a bad person if you don’t appreciate the manipulative and glib way the movie was made? Do you have to like the movie if you support the cause? Alas, pity the poor critic who has to look like a malaria-loving fiend to do his job!