Films like "A Rainy Day" deserve an outlet -- as "Rainy Day" gets tonight at 9:30 on Channels 26 and 32 -- but not a great deal of indulgence. Beth Brickell wrote, directed and produced this simplistic, fitfully trenchant film about a mother and daughter's strained relations on a $10,000 grant from the American Film Institute, and for a student film, it is technically fairly smooth.

But the scenario is psychologically primitive and the quality of insight rather drab. The 30-minute film opens with a father's funeral, for which a daughter, expatriated from home for the past five years, returns. The event triggers flashbacks, recriminations and, finally, a resigned understanding between the overly protective mom and the daughter whose memories have made her resentful.

Brickell has trouble keeping this situation in motion. Her flashbacks to childhood days seem stilted and artificial, vignettes designed too baldly to drive home a point. Mom's creative urges were represented by her own father, it is explained, so she overcompensates by trying to live them out through a model daughter. "There's no greater happiness than excellin'," Mom says, but Daddy is a lovable hedonist who counters with his own advice: "The important thing is to have fun while doing the best you can."

Mariette Hartley plays the daughter, glum and somber; Collin Wilcox knows how to read the right sinister subtleties into the mother; and a beastly tot named Tracy Gold plays the daughter as a child. Brickell's way with exposition is so clunky that she establishes the daughter as a successful actress by having the clergyman at the funeral include the fact in his eulogy, as if he were Merv Griffin introducing the next act on the bill.

Many will find empathetic reverberations in the story, but part of the art of filmmaking is to make such situations pertinent to as many people as possible. "A Rainy Day" opts for soggy-groggy melodrama instead.