Wednesday, March 21, 2012
October Baby Review [Jay Watts]
This past weekend I was privileged to see an advanced screening of October Baby. You can read the promotional material for the film here. A little background first, my grandfather owned a chain of movie theaters in Knoxville, Tennessee where I spent incalculable hours on vacation fostering a lifelong love of movies and buttered popcorn. Later, I was heavily involved in theater and film, both in college and professionally, and for a time intended that to be my career. As a result, I tend to take movie reviews very seriously and am not always a fan of films simply because they have the virtue of agreeing with me on some spiritual or philosophical point.
October Baby tells the story of young woman – Hannah, played by Rachel Hendrix - who finds out that there is an explanation for her lifetime severe physical and emotional struggles. She was adopted by her parents after she survived a botched abortion. With the help of her best friend – Jason played by Jason Burkey- they set out on a road trip to search out her birth mother and the full story of Hannah's past.
Whatever concerns I had about the quality of the film I was screening were quickly allayed. October Baby is not an amateur production. The filmmakers, Andrew and Jon Erwin, understand how to make a movie. Anytime you watch an independent film you know that the producers sacrifice some elements of larger productions – usually film quality and acting – in order to tell a more personal and intimate story. The Erwin's seem to understand the limits of a production at this level and use their unusual skill to mitigate the weaker elements of small films, or – more simply put – they shot an independent film that looks great.
The work with the actors was impressive to me as well. The hardest thing about acting in film is the incredible sensitivity of the camera in reading emotion. There is a fine line between a quality performance and ham fisted overacting. During the filming of A League of Their Own, Rosie O'Donnell said that she and others would watch Tom Hanks and Geena Davis filming scenes and think, “They're not doing anything! They are not even trying.” Later when they all sat down to watch the dailies they would see how much better Hanks and Davis were than the rest of them. The stillness translated into a more subtle and thoughtful performance. The actors in October Baby, especially the supporting characters, are remarkably subdued for an independent film which I assume is a credit to the Erwin's. It was refreshing to see them let the story do the work and trust the project. The majority of the emotional work is left for Hendrix and Burkey. Asking young actors to carry that load is a tall order and the Erwin's help them out by including a few mini-music video interludes to progress the relationship. It is hard for me to evaluate John Schneider as her father because I am just thrilled to see Bo Duke, but I do think Chris Sligh of American Idol fame is surprisingly likable and Jasmine Guy is a much needed emotional anchor.
There is a lot that is good about October Baby beyond the spiritual nature of the story. It certainly isn't a perfect movie, but it is a lovely movie that finishes strong. Much is often made by Christians that we need to go see these movies to send Hollywood a message. I disagree. Tyler Perry and the Kendrick's have demonstrated that filmmakers can produce material for a specific audience profitably whether Hollywood likes it or not. That is an important lesson, because if you go see October Baby this weekend you directly equip these particular filmmakers to do more work like this. Opening weekend receipts go to the producers and distributors. If they do well they finance more movies like this. So go to see October Baby this weekend and buy some popcorn and Coke while you are at it. That is how you tip the theater owners for showing films like this.