EXPECTATIONS: And now it's time for another episode of Tales From The Current Releases Office:
"Right, you shits!" said Ian as he stepped out of his office. "Any films we've missed lately?"
Jay Dub flipped through the circled dates on his David Cross-autographed Alvin and the Chipmunks calendar. "I guess I'm clear until Magilla Gorilla gets made into a movie."
"There's this October Baby thing," said Sean from his desk.
"Who are you and why are you speaking?" Ian asked, reading the IMDB synopsis.
A college freshman's world is rocked when she learns she is the adopted survivor of an attempted abortion.
There was a long silence in the office. "...Bloody hell." Ian finally broke the silence.
"Well, it can't be that bad, guys." Jay Dub pandered. "Here, let's look at the... poster..
"Not it!" Sean blurted.
"Not it!" Ian and Joe repeated.
"Hey, guys!" said Vargo, stepping through the door. "Sorry I'm late, I brought doughnuts... why is everybody staring at me?"
REALITY: I always seem to get the super-political or strongly religious films, and they always seem to end the same way. Great, that's what I get to be known for. Jay Dub gets to be the talking animal guy, I get to be "The dude who hates Christians." I don't want that title. I don't want to be the Bill Maher of Current Releases. Calling someone the Bill Maher of anything seems like one of the worst insults you can give someone. I don't want it to be this way. Hey, Christians: Make better movies.
So I'll admit, I walked into October Baby ready to lay down some wrath. Unfortunately, it didn't anger me so much as it did bore me, which in and of itself left me with a strange feeling of respect. Though it should be considered rather telling that my standards were so low that I considered "not sending me into a foaming rage" enough to impress me.
The sun is setting on their relationship. The literal sun is also literally setting just so you get the metaphor.
October Baby follows Hannah (Rachel Hendrix), a 19-year-old girl with a history of health problems, who also happens to be madly in love with her childhood best friend Jason (Jason Burkey). After she collapses in public, doctors convince Hannah's parents (Jennifer Price and John Schneider, because all Christian movies need that guy who used to be a big star, but then found Jesus) to reveal the big secret they've been hiding her whole life: She was adopted, and was born premature as the result of a failed abortion, because freshman year of college is the best time for you to tell your daughter something that redefines her entire life.
We haven't even gotten into "you gotta be kidding me" land yet. That comes when the movie blames Hannah's secret crippling depression on the circumstances of her birth. Really? That has to be it? It can't be that her parents have never trusted her enough to tell her the truth her entire life, or that the man she loves is dating someone else, or that she's 19 with the maturity level of a 14-year-old? It can't be any of those, it has to be the abortion? Okay movie, fine. I'll play along. Anyway, against her father's wishes, Hannah and Jason go on a trip to find Hannah's biological mother under the guise of going on a road trip to Mardi Gras. Hijinks, bonding, and tears ensue.
One of the mistakes that all religious movies make is in their refusal to have their protagonists be anything other than squeaky clean pure, because they're supposed to be role models for the young teens in the audience. The problem here is that Hannah is a horrible, unlikable character and no one should want to be like her. In one particularly telling scene, she laments that everyone thinks of her as a sheltered home-school freak, then five minutes later reveals that she's so stunted that she is unable to sleep in the same room as a boy. Not only that, but she is so clueless about the way the world works she seems to think she's the only person who has a rough life, and she repeats her story to literally everyone in her path. At one point, she recaps the entirety of the movie to a friendly priest, so that when this movie inevitably plays on the Hallmark channel people can get caught up after the commercial break.
Literally every problem Hannah encounters is solved by her whining I WAS ADOPTED at some authority figure, and it seems to work for her. You can count on one finger the number of decisions Hannah makes by herself without a man making the choice for her. She's an immature, weak-willed character, and it's somewhat telling that this is the idealized woman for this audience.
The real issue, though, is that religious movies only seem to appeal to the religious. They're literally preaching to their own choir. (WHY did I not use that joke for Joyful Noise?) At my screening, the only other people in the theater with me were members of a youth group that had driven an hour and a half to see the film. When I talked to them afterward, they certainly seemed to think it was worth the drive. They explained why they were so moved by the film in a manner much more thoughtful and articulate than if I had asked somebody to defend, say, Green Lantern. I'll admit I was impressed, but it doesn't change the fact that the movie was made for them and they were the only ones watching it. You could make a movie called Everything Marty Cares About, and I'm pretty sure I'd be able to come up with some passionate arguments for it, too. I'm also pretty sure it would consist entirely of footage of whiskey being distilled with Nic Cage narrating, so take that for what it's worth.
This one isn't a metaphor, they're in a literal car.In the past, I have praised movies for understanding their audience, but there's a key difference here: If part of your movie's purpose is to spread a message, but it will only reach those who already believe the message, then it fails on some fundamental level. That level is called "being good." However, on this concept, October Baby performs better than most. I mean, it still wears its politics so openly it'll disgust anyone who isn't already pro-life, particularly when Jasmine Guy shows up to bring up the "It's not tissue, it's a baby" argument, but it does one surprising thing: It completely cops to the fact that Christians do horrible things like bombing abortion clinics, and that these things are wrong. In fact, when we finally meet Hannah's birth mother, she's treated with a surprising level of dignity. She's a successful woman with a family, it's almost like you can understand why she didn't have a baby at 18. Man, if anything, someone could make this film into an argument to better fund abortion clinics, so they can do the job right.
Credit where it's due, there are a handful of things about this movie I really enjoyed. Our comic relief characters (American Idol's Chris Sligh and some red-headed guy who apparently isn't in this movie, according to IMDB) are genuinely funny. In fact, they're basically the only likable characters, so we ditch them about a half-hour in. There's also a bit of visual metaphor surrounding Hannah, as everything she owns is covered in butterflies. Butterfly, of course, being a symbol for rebirth. I expected to hear an annoyingly cloying voice-over explain it to the audience, and there came none. So, good job with that, guys. However, the most impressive aspect was the idea that a movie aimed at a Christian audience has a "Love the sinner, hate the sin" undertone to it. And by "undertone," I mean "a character looks directly at the screen and says it." I just think it's nice that any movie yells at its audience "QUIT JUDGING PEOPLE."
Ultimately, though, the weaknesses of this film outnumber the strengths, and the movie stifles itself every time it starts to become interesting. What we're left with is a very well-lit Sunday School sketch, and as if to prove this, the MPAA logo in the credits is the largest I've ever seen. Like they're screaming "Look, guys, we're a real movie!" Look, I don't hate Christian movies, I just wish they were better. And a little less exclusive. Of course, I also get mad when they sneak the messages into things like children's cartoons, so maybe there really is no winning with me.
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MINORITY REPORT: You seem to have forgotten the masterpiece of Christian filmmaking that is Hobo with a Shotgun, mister! - Ian "Professor Clumsy" Maddison
I wrote a song about surviving abortion many years ago; you might remember that it played during the opening sequence of the bone-chilling sequel Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2? Well, now is probably a good time to reveal that it was a Christian message song, and like Insane Clown Posse, I've loved God all along! -- Marilyn Manson
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