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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)

‘Undefeated’

Audience:
PG-13

 

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Oscar winner offers memorable message of hard work and hope

Football is a lot like life, as legendary coach Vince Lombardi was fond of saying. In both, success depends, in large part, on one’s ability to rise up after being knocked down.

The Manassas Tigers, the underdog Memphis high school football team at the heart of the Oscar-winning documentary, “Undefeated,” know all about suffering hard knocks, on and off the playing field.

Many of the African-American players on the team come from poverty and broken homes, and see gridiron glory as their only ticket out. Then there is the school’s history of losing seasons – in the more than 100 years that the high school has been in existence, the Tigers had never won a postseason game.

But things begin to change when dedicated, volunteer coach, Bill Courtney, a white, local businessman, steps into the locker room, and over the next six years proceeds to change the course of the school’s football program and his players’ futures.

The Tigers’ miracle turnaround from perennial disappointments to contenders, under Courtney’s no-quit leadership, would seem too unbelievable if it weren’t true. Think “Friday Night Lights” meets “Remember the Titans” with a dash of “The Blind Side.”

I won’t spoil the ending, but you don’t have to be a football fan to be moved. The movie is more than a sports drama; it is an inspirational tale of redemption and overcoming the odds.

Borrowing from the playbook of “Hoop Dreams” – and even St. Paul – the film uses sport as a metaphor for life. I was totally invested in the personal stories of these young men. At one point, one of the players, a gentle giant with college aspirations, talks about his pet turtle being vulnerable under his hard shell. He could just as easily be describing himself and his teammates.

Equally compelling is Courtney, a committed Christian, who sees the game as a way of teaching life-lessons about character, discipline, adversity and ultimately succeeding in life. In pushing them to be better players, he is really encouraging them to be better men.

Raised without a father, who left when he was young, Courtney is sensitive to the anger and emotional pain felt by many of his players growing up without dads, and recognizes the vital importance of mentors and male role models in the healthy physical, emotional and spiritual formation of boys.

There’s also a wonderful moment of prayer, where Courtney asks God to grant his team the grace to lead “a life of love, to walk in honor and to serve [God] in truth” and to not quit on each other or themselves – win or lose.

Much like the athletes profiled, this inspirational movie has the heart of a champion.

The film is rated PG-13 for some scattered crude language and mature themes.

(By David DiCerto,a Catholic film critic and co-host of “Reel Faith” on NET TV)