Monday, November 1, 2010

Simon Birch.

Simon Birch (Mark Steven Johnson, 1998)

Note: As promised, today’s post will feature guest commentary from/sexy photos of FOTB Steve Isaac, a huge fan of this film.

Category: Sad movie about physically challenged children. Hey it’s kids week here at Taste My Sad! As we’ve discussed earlier, kids are generally pretty helpless creatures. Add to that a physical challenge, and you’ve got a potent one-two punch of sadness. In Simon Birch, the title character is a dwarf (not to be confused with a midget or an elf). A child dwarf, at that. Very small. Forget about reaching the dishes on the top shelf. Even the lower shelves are probably out of bounds too. A child dwarf isn’t going to be much help in the kitchen, is my point here. So that’s one issue that a movie like this could tackle. There are probably others.

My familiarity with this issue: Devotees of the blog are no doubt aware of my many physical challenges. While height is no longer one of these challenges, it was for quite a while. In seventh and eighth grade I was probably 4’11”, too short to be chosen for the school basketball team, despite my superb passing skills and high basketball IQ. So with the height issue, the diabetes (diagnosed in eighth grade) and a touch of asthma thrown in there as well, I wasn’t exactly Jim Thorpe in middle school. My growth spurt occurred in the summer between eighth and ninth grade, at which point I became a slightly taller near-invalid.

This is not to compare my issues with those of children with actual physical challenges, of course. Aside from the functional problems of their conditions, they also have to deal with the fact that children can be really, really mean, especially when confronted with people who are different than them. I was never really made fun of for my skinniness or weakness or limited height, but rather for my glasses (my childhood nickname was, for a time, “Glasses”). But lots of kids have glasses. Not a lot of kids are dwarves. It’s good to have some perspective. (Also, it should be noted that this movie is based on the novel A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, which was apparently assigned to every high school student in the United States except me.)

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “Simon Birch tells the story of Joe and Simon's heart-warming journey of friendship. Simon Birch was born with a condition that makes him much smaller than all the other kids in town. Now, due to his condition, Simon thinks God made him this way for a reason and highly believes in God. Together, Joe and Simon go on a journey of trust and friendship to find the answers to many things.”

What Steve thought of the movie: “Hello sad eaters… friend of the blog Steve here. Anywho, I saw this film in theaters a number of years ago and recall it being quite sad. Today, about a decade later, the sadness has become perhaps more profound, not less. I am extremely lucky, in that I have experienced almost no loss in all of my 21 years. This is perhaps why I find myself strongly affected by films that revolve not around tragedies, massive in scope, but around coping with the loss of loved ones. Films like Simon Birch don’t act as a reminder of things that I, personally, have faced. Rather they highlight a profound sorrow that I have yet to face but inevitably will. 

“In addition, I find the religious nature of the film to be deeply sad. Simon’s search for divine meaning in the tragedy around him is truly heartbreaking, especially as he is denied a godly justification time and time again. As often is the case (so I hear), loss can push people towards a religious search. The need to know that loved ones live on in some fashion, or that their deaths are part of a bigger plan is strong. As a staunch atheist I respect this search but believe, with the very fiber of my being, that such a search is futile. Again, this may also play a role in why I find the particular brand of sadness in this movie to be distinctly moving. That being said, I find that the film, from a cinematic standpoint, is pretty good while at the same time baiting us into some cliché sad movie traps. This is evident in the hyper-saccharine score and some ‘meh’ inserts (see deer). [Editor’s Note: Ohhhhh the deer. We’ll get to that.] That’s all for me. Peace and love.”

What I thought of the movie: I generally agree with our Steve. There were certainly things that I didn’t like about it. The movie does make it clear that it wants you to cry, and it’s fairly episodic, with some scenes that drag more than others. Most importantly, there is a scene in the film (that I will not spoil, but if you’ve seen the movie you probably know what it is) that is laughably ridiculous, and kind of took me out of the movie for a while. I still really can’t believe that I witnessed it. But on the whole, I liked more things than I disliked about it. It’s often quite charming and sweet. Most of the time it felt authentic, not quite so nakedly manipulative as other tearjerkers I’ve seen. The performances are generally good, especially Ian Michael Smith, a non-actor, in the title role. And as Steve noted, it really is quite thoughtful about the existence and nature of God, which is nice to see. It’s heartfelt! My heart felt sad at the end when he died. (That is not a spoiler, BTW; his grave appears before the opening credits are done.) So I'll give Steve some credit here for suggesting that I watch it; his "friend of the blog" status remains very much intact.

How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: Simon Birch was a pretty cool kid. Despite his physical challenges, frequent name-calling and terrible, uncaring parents, not too much really got to him. A lot of that was due to his faith that he was an instrument of God, which I’d imagine would help a great deal. But he was also quick with the jokes, and enjoyed a good pair of breasts as much as the next fella. You get the feeling Simon Birch would’ve been fun to hang out with, so long as he wasn’t chirping about God’s plan for too long. (This is not to say that religious people aren’t fun to hang out with, of course. It’s always annoying when someone gets hung up on one subject, be it religion or politics or my hair.)

The God stuff was interesting to me, too. I won’t be so bold as Steve as to announce my own personal religious beliefs on the blog, but I was certainly intrigued but the questions that the film raises are no doubt ones that many of us have pondered in our more reflective moments. I did some brief research on the Christian movie websites, including (yes, that is a thing), and on the whole, they all liked Simon Birch (although some complained about the occasional profanity). Many of them were really enthusiastic about it, in fact;, which reviews films based on a “conservative Christian perspective on suitability for family consumption,” called the film “the most spiritually intuitive, spiritually sensitive, pro-God, pro-faith movie released so far this year” (a judgment they no doubt reconsidered when American History X was released a month later). Heck, even Hollywood Jesus himself called it “brilliant.” And just a few paragraphs ago known atheist Steve Isaac described how moved he was by the film, too. It’s a rare movie that can straddle such a wide audience. That’s what she said.

Oh and also! I took some pictures during the film. Here they are.

Here is Steve at the beginning of the movie. He knows he’s in for some sadness. Also he knows that I’m going to occasionally turn and take pictures of him during the movie, rather obnoxiously, when I think he’s at his most vulnerable.

This was after the part we were talking about earlier, the ludicrous part. I was aghast.

We ordered from Wingo’s about six times during the film. This was during one of those times.


He knows I’m trying to catch him out. That sneaky Pete.

Now we’re getting towards the end of the movie. Notice how Steve is now laying down. This is not just because he is a lazy man. He’s also ready to let the sadness wash over him.

It’s gettin’ sad. Also I forgot to put the flash on for this one.

Ohhhhhhh no. A broken man.

How I felt after the movie ended: There were many emotions at play. Sad, yes; heartwarmed, yes; focused on calming down an inconsolable Steve, oh yes. Mixed bag here.

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