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Simon Birch

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Simon Birch

Starring: Ian Michael Smith, Joseph Mazzello
Director: Johnson 43338
Rated: PG
RunTime: 120 Minutes
Release Date: September 1998
Genre: Drama

Review by Walter Frith
3½ stars out of 4

"They don't make 'em like that anymore!" That's what the true movie fan will say and only a true cynic who is angry at the world, blaming it for all of their personal failures will hate this film as it is nearly impossible to truly dislike a film like 'Simon Birch'. This film is brimming with childhood innocence and coming of age and has enough light hearted humour to fill the context of a two hour motion picture. The film plays like poetry. It has its highs and it has its lows and I don't mean that in terms of quality but in terms of emotion.

Based on 'A Prayer for Owen Meany' by John Irving, 'Simon Birch' has within it a true story of optimism when life hands you a setback. The point of this film can be easily missed as it strives for its entire running time to tell a story of how friendship can have no boundaries, only commitments.

Ian Michael Smith is Simon Birch. He's a twelve year old boy who has a birth defect of inadequate growth. He's an absolutely spirited human being and for a boy of twelve, he has the wisdom and attitude of someone three times his age. He and his best friend, another 12 year-old played by Joseph Mazzello ('Jurassic Park'), go about their everyday lives in Gravestown, Maine in 1964. Simon is a boy who isn't truly happy. Wise in the many ways of the world for a boy his age, Simon's parents neglect him. Never truly loving him for who he is but disappointed by the way he was born. It is a stigma many children suffer from.

Joseph Mazzello plays Joe Wenteworth, and his mother, portrayed by Ashley Judd, is the town's live wire. A beautiful and down to earth woman who gave birth to Joe out of wedlock and refuses to name who his father his. In many ways, she acts as a substitute mother for Simon. Making sweaters for him when it's cold, showering him with a kind word and making him feel he's as good as anyone in the town are her assets and she is the best character in the film. I would like to see Judd receive an Oscar nomination for this role as her character is the emotional anchor of the film, even though she isn't in it as much as we, who like this film, would enjoy seeing her.

One thing I would like to point out about 'Simon Birch' is that it is flawed but very mildly. There are traces of 'Stand by Me', 'Forrest Gump', 'The Sweet Hereafter' and 'Made in Heaven' to be found but the film's mild lack of originality is compensated by terrific performances and a story that will be mistaken by many as manipulative when it's really about one thing, humanity. We are treated at the beginning of the film to the somewhat surprising appearance of Jim Carrey who plays Joe Wenteworth as a man in the present day, visiting friends of the past and is the film's narrator.

Other major characters in the film are Oliver Platt as a suitor of Joe's mother who Joe eventually grows fond of and David Strathairn who in many ways plays the film's most enigmatic character.

I was stunned to see that many of the things that Simon and Joe go through actually happened to me as a youngster and as many who see the film will testify to, it is a film that brings back happier times in one's life and is a film many can relate to. People in many regards don't go to the movies to be lectured to but 'Simon Birch' is the perfect film to take children to as both an entertainment value and as a lesson of life.

The film is written for the screen and directed by Mark Steven Johnson who wrote both 'Grumpy Old Men' movies and 'Simon Birch' is a film that will not be entirely appreciated for the moment but will be better cherished a decade or more down the road.

Copyright 2000 Walter Frith

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