Fox // 2012 // 95 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // October 29th, 2012
Every life is beautiful...
Abortion. Let's face it, there's no arguing its value (or lack thereof), morally or legally. It's an unwinnable debate, a clash where both sides are convinced of their right (divine or otherwise) and neither will give the other the benefit of the secular/sacred doubt. It's no win. It's lose/lose. So if you plan on making a movie that takes a clearly Christian, all but positively pro-life stance, and then expect to find a mainstream audience that will cotton to your WWJD dynamic, you're wagering on the longest of cinematic shots. October Baby is willing to take that bet, and then doubles down unnecessarily...and for the most part, it barely succeeds. Sure, when it wanders over into the preaching and the prosthelytizing, it loses much of its purpose and punch. But when it stays with the story of a girl searching for the truth about her painful past, the family filmmaking duo of Andrew and Jon Erwin discover something winning within their otherwise Bible-thumping screed.
When we meet young Hannah (Rachel Hendrix), we learn that she has had years of severe health issues. Still, she's managed to make it to college and is about to fulfill a lifelong ambition -- making her acting debut in a theatrical production. Of course, before she can go on, she collapses. After this, yet another close call, her parents (John Schneider, Smallville; Jennifer Price, Lifted) decide to tell her the truth about her lineage. You see, Hannah was adopted. Even more shockingly, she was actually a "rescue," the product of a failed, late-term abortion. Naturally, our heroine is stunned by the news. With the help of her longtime friend Jason (Jason Burkley, For the Glory) and his cousin B-Mac's (Chris Sligh, American Idol) beat-up VW van, Hannah plans on traveling to Alabama and locate her birth mother. Once there, she hopes to find out exactly what happened.
As we have said here more often than we care to repeat, there is literally nothing wrong with making God and religious faith the main theme of your movie. Handled correctly, with an ear for authenticity and the need to reach out to the non-believer and/or cynical contrarian it can work. It's the balance between universality and outright evangelism. Perhaps a better analogy would be your typical Sunday sermon and the 24/7 insanity of something like 3ABN. October Baby doesn't really understand this. It knows it wants to tell everyone about the horrors of abortion, to warn about laws that allow situations like Hannah's to happen (if not regularly, at least in this case), and to reach across ideological lines to promote an "all life is beautiful" conceit. But instead of finding a way to slip it in casually, to illustrate an otherwise standard coming of age tale with an all important message, it makes the mistake of berating us.
We're already invested in Hannah's story, and a specific moment during the last act secures this. But because they want to make sure we get hit over the head with their beliefs, the Erwins end up yelling to a mostly empty arena. The converted haven't bothered to show (or are already on their feet, moved and motivated), and the uninitiated have long left. They had their chance, however. There is a scene in October Baby that all creators of Bible-thumping narratives should pay attention to. It argues for the power in the pure human element. After breaking into the hospital where she was born, Hannah is arrested. Luckily, the police officer involved knows about her story -- and the nurse who was there when the failed abortion happened. Essayed by Jasmine Guy (yes, that Jasmine Guy) in a performance so powerful it threatens to undermine everything around it, we learn the graphic details of that day...and it's heartbreaking. It's the right message measured out via the right means.
The rest of the movie can't measure up. Between plot contrivances and Spring Break stupidity (did we mention B-Mac and his VW are headed to NOLA for Mardi Gras???) we are forced to endure someone's idea of "entertainment" when all we really need are more moments like Guy's, and an ending that takes risks instead of playing it passive and safe (the ancillary Catholic priest doesn't help matters much). October Baby doesn't want to offer same. It needs the safety of its meaningless machinations.
Technically, the movie looks very good -- that is, when it's not doing some unnecessary soft focus nonsense in order to evoke a certain cinematic "feeling." The colors are decent and the details readily apparent. In fact, the 1080p/2.40:1 transfer is one of the best aspects of the release. The sonic situation is also worth celebrating. The lossless DTS Master Audio 5.1 mix does a good job of keeping the dialogue clean and understandable while giving the frequent musical interludes a chance to open up and breath. It's a sharp and solid audio experience.
As for added content, we are treated to an informative if slightly self-congratulatory audio commentary. Featuring the Erwins (who sound like great guys) and members of the cast and crew, it's a chance for everyone to pat each other on the back while outlining the particular challenges in making "this kind of movie." We are also treated to bloopers (relatively fun), deleted scenes (only a couple are crucial), a look at the casting, the inspiration for the film, the input of faith-based musicians, testimony from the participants on their beliefs, and a music video. It's a full package for a movie that means well, but can't quite avoid its inherent limitations.
As with anyone who chooses to live life open and out about their particular proclivities, bravery is the key to success. You will fight more than you will find solace. Unfortunately, October Baby doesn't get this. Instead, it tries to be both one-sided and all-inclusive. Except for a few brief and very intense moments, it can't manage the approach.
Guilty. Not as bad as some "Go with God" cinema, but could have been much
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* Music Video