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‘October Baby’

Audience:
A-II – adults and adolescents

 

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“Every life is beautiful.” That’s the tagline – as well as the underlying theme –

of the thoroughly honorable, if not always fully effective, drama “October Baby” (Provident/Samuel Goldwyn).

After she collapses on stage during the opening night of a college play, freshman Hannah Lawson (Rachel Hendrix) winds up in the hospital and on the receiving end of two pieces of staggering news. She learns first, that her devoted parents –

mom Grace (Jennifer Price) and dad Jacob (John Schneider) – adopted her as an infant. And second, that she's the survivor of an attempted abortion.

As her doctor explains, the latter fact accounts for the chronic medical problems that have long plagued Hannah and that culminated in her blackout.

Devastated and bewildered by this sudden revelation, Hannah sets out in search of her birth mother, Cindy (Shari Rigby). She’s accompanied on her journey by Jason (Jason Burkey), her best friend since childhood. He’s arranged for them to hitch a ride with a group of fellow students who are off to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.

In their feature debut, brothers Andrew and Jon Erwin helm a strongly pro-life message movie whose import viewers dedicated to the dignity of all human beings will welcome unanimously. Opinions about the aesthetic package in which they wrap their point, however, may be more divided.

The spring break-style odyssey on which Hannah and Jason tag along is obviously intended to provide some much-needed light relief. But only some of the comedy centering on the expedition’s leader, disheveled but good-hearted B-Mac (Chris Sligh), works.

Instead of being kept in sharp focus, Hannah's potentially poignant vulnerability on discovering that she was unwanted – and that her very existence was treated as disposable by her own mother – gets diffused amid more conventional expressions of teen angst and confusion.

But the Erwins’ project does have some undeniable cinematic assets. The first part of their story, for instance, plays out against adeptly shot bucolic backgrounds. And Jasmine Guy turns in a strong performance as Mary, a retired nurse who once worked in the abortion mill where Hannah was almost killed. Perhaps in a nod to the vital role Catholics have played in the struggle against abortion, a climactic scene is set in a cathedral explicitly identified as Catholic. There Hannah, a self-identified Baptist, not only seeks counsel in prayer, but from a kindly priest. The advice he gives her, however, is more evangelical in tone than Catholic; he emphasizes an individual relationship with God while at least implicitly downplaying the importance of the church. But there is certainly no direct contradiction of Catholic teaching, and the scene can be viewed as an informal version of confession.

Laudably, the script avoids the temptation to demonize birth-mom Cindy. Though she proves unequal to the challenge of Hannah’s abrupt reappearance in her life, she’s also shown to have gone on to marriage and motherhood as well as to a successful career.

The film contains mature subject matter and potentially disturbing references. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II – adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

(By John Mulderig, Catholic News Service)

‘Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds’

Audience:
A-III -- adults

 

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Less heavy-handed than the eponymous writer and director’s other morality plays, but considerably slower in pace, “Tyler Perry’s Good Deeds” (Lionsgate) focuses on a single relationship, and carries a steady reminder that the wealthy and powerful have to work much harder than the less privileged to approach the kingdom of heaven.

Perry plays Wesley Deeds, a San Francisco tycoon who runs the computer software corporation founded by his father. He’s saddled with an alcoholic, promiscuous brother (Brian White) who’s as impulsive as Wesley is controlled, a glamorous fiancee (Gabrielle Union) who often takes advantage of Wesley’s predictability to enjoy nights on the town by herself, and a domineering mother (Phylicia Rashad).

As in all of Perry films, the theme is laid out early and broadly and invites an obvious answer: “Am I living my own life, or the life I’ve been told to live?” Deeds asks in a voice-over as the story opens.

Into this painfully ordered existence comes the untrammeled mess that is Lindsey (Thandie Newton), an Iraq War widow with a 6-year-old daughter, Ariel (Jordenn Thompson). Lindsey, who works the night shift cleaning Deeds’ suite of offices, is newly homeless from being evicted. Deeds finds her blunt approach to life startling, and renewing.

Keeping things real is as fundamental to this tale as predictability. The big problem here is that when Perry takes a departure from his over-the-top Madea character, his acting style can kindly be described as somnambulant, and the message he’s trying to get across dims in the ensuing fog, despite energetic performances from his supporting cast.

Mature adolescents along with grown-ups, though, should have no problems with the material – assuming that they're devoted Perry fans.

The film contains an implied premarital relationship as well as fleeting crass language and sexual banter. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III – adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 – parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

(by Kurt Jensen, Catholic News Service)