Friday, April 6, 2012

Hit and Miss: Review of 'October Baby'

Now is the time for Spring Break party movies, and October Baby (IMDB), released March 23, 2012, has made a number of Christians’ must-see lists. The coming-of-age feature film follows Hannah Lawson (Rachel Hendrix), a 19-year-old whose life is turned upside down when she discovers that that she’s adopted. Only there’s a twist to this typical story: Hannah was also the product of a botched clinical abortion. With the help of her best-friend Jason (Jason Burkey) and others, she searches for her birth mother and answers to life’s biggest questions.

Yesterday evening, I finally had an opportunity to see October Baby in one of the six Orange County theaters currently screening it. There were probably only a dozen people in the audience, and primarily adults over forty. As others who have seen the film promised, I cried. The script was inspired based on a true story, that of saline abortion survivor Gianna Jessen (who sings “Ocean Floor”), and also incorporated the story of Shari Rigby (who plays Hannah’s birth mother). In other words, it’s heart-wrenching.

In the grand scheme of things, October Baby has much in common with Soul Surfer, another Christian coming-of-age movie that released a year ago. Both center around a female lead. Both juggle veteran and unknown actors. Both struggle to lighten an emotionally-charged plot. However, I found the editing and cinematography for October Baby noticeably weak and often distracting. In addition, the scripted failed with half-hearted attempts at humor relief. The American Idol joke told by former contestant Chris Sligh (who plays B-Mac) fell flat, as did most lines uttered by the underdeveloped supporting cast of college buddies. The script may not have had holes, but there were a lot of scratches that left me confused. Why would parents and medical professionals be so harsh with someone who they believe is suicidal? Why would a college student who obviously needs a state ID or driver’s license never see her birth certificate?

In addition, the brothers Erwin (co-writer Jon and Andrew, who share director and producer duties) followed in tradition of the brothers Kendrick, Vision Forum, and too many other Christian filmmakers: Married couples are portrayed as cold and unaffectionate. Father-daughter relationships are given priority over mother-daughter ones. John Schneider (The Dukes of Hazzard, Smallville, etc.) is convincing as the controlling father who doesn’t quite understand that he’s making the situation worse by his actions. However, there the script missed a number of opportunities to bring Hannah’s adopted mother (Jennifer Price) into the story, which would have made everything more realistic.

Another awkward relationship was that between Hannah and Jason. I got the impression that Rachel Hendrix and Jason Burkey worked well together despite being sabotaged by an unconvincing script and poor editing. Like Soul Surfer, everything a girl says to a guy comes out catty rather than friendly or flirtatious. The Erwin brothers clearly promote parental authority over adult children and that carries over to the topic of dating. However, it was nice not to see this turned into another courtship movie.

The really depressing part was traditional love triangle: Hunky guy ignores longtime friend for a hot blond. Girlfriend becomes jealous of best friend. Guy dumps girlfriend for being “unreasonable” and runs to the best friend’s arms. We’re supposed to side with the best friend because, well, she’s the star. Like most other movies that fall back on this stereotypical scenario, the hunky guy just looks like a selfish jerk in handling both relationships.

One thing that initially surprised me about the movie was the role the Roman Catholic Church plays in this obviously Baptist movie. Rather than her own pastor, a priest (who never crosses himself or bows towards the alter) helps Hannah learn how to forgive and move on with her life. However, it might be expected. The pro-life movement thrives on Catholics’ passion and commitment to saving unborn babies. By making October Baby more ecumenical, the filmmakers open it up to a wider audience that, although fractured in many ways, is united about one thing: spreading the message to end clinical abortion.