Turn Back the Clock


Simon Birch

Distributed by Walt Disney Video


Reviewed by Melissa Minners

 

            Years ago, I was offered the opportunity to watch a premiere movie channel for free.  Who would pass up an opportunity like that, huh?  There were some rather boring films and repeats, but there were some great films airing during that timeframe that really struck a chord with me.  One such film was Simon Birch, a film I have made it a point to enjoy whenever it aired.  Now that I have been able to replace by VHS version with a DVD version of the film, I have decided to watch it again.

            In the film, Simon Birch (Ian Michael Smith) is a young man whose difference from the rest of society is readily apparent at birth.  Born a little person to rather indifferent parents, Simon struggles to find meaning in his life and his stature.  He truly believes that he has a purpose in life, that God has a reason for everything and that his size is meant to be a strength that will some day make him a hero. 

            Simon's best friend is Joe Wenteworth (Joe Mazzello) who also feels like an outcast.  Joe's mother, Rebecca (Ashley Judd), became pregnant out of wedlock and has kept the secret of his father's identity from everyone, including Joe, his entire life.  Ridiculed about his parentage, Joe feels a kinship to Simon as a fellow outcast of the town. 

            When Rebecca is killed in a freak accident, Joe and Simon set off on an adventure to discover the identity of Joe's father and learn a lesson about love, faith and friendship that will stand the test of time.

            Based on John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, Simon Birch is an incredibly uplifting film with deep emotions, alternating laughter with tears throughout.  Ian Michael Smith is a terrific actor.  The viewer immediately falls in love with his portrayal of Simon and instantly believes in Simon's destiny.  And, of course, Simon has all of the best lines in the film.  I particularly loved it when Simon and Reverend Russell (David Strathairn) go toe to toe arguing their points using biblical verses.  Joe Mazello's performance as Simon's best friend is just as enjoyable.  His anguish over his mother's death, his discovery about his father and his relationship with Simon offer up some incredibly dramatic moments for Mazello's character and he proved more than up to the task, performing his role in an extremely believable fashion.  You begin to forget that these kids are just actors and that this is just a movie, not actual events in these kids' lives.

            Ashley Judd's role in the film is excellent, though way too short.  You truly believe in her love for her son and for Simon, who might as well be her son as well.  Although he is not one of my favorite actors, I have to say that Oliver Platt's portrayal of Ben Goodrich, Rebecca's latest suitor and eventual male role model for Joe, is extremely likeable.  Saturday Night Live alumni Jan Hooks is hysterical as the much-put-upon Sunday school teacher who has a special dislike for Simon and a special place in her heart for Reverend Russell.  Fans may also recognize a short cameo by Jim Carey as the adult Joe Wenteworth.

            I loved the way the film's creators mixed the regular hilarious antics of pre-teen boys (their love of baseball and discovery of girls) with the dramatic issues they also face (the death of a loved one, the ultimate meaning of faith, overcoming adversity).  This movie covers many an emotional base in the telling of Simon Birch's story.  Viewers will find themselves laughing uncontrollably at one moment and reaching for the tissue box the next.

            The DVD version I purchased contained no real extras, which I found a bit disappointing.  I would have loved to see some outtakes or some sort of documentary on the creation of the film and the story that inspired it.  That being said, I still enjoyed watching Simon Birch for like the eight time.  This is a great film for adults or kids in that awkward stage between elementary school and high school.  A fun tale about love, faith and the loyalty that all go into a lasting friendship...a friendship that truly has an impact on that person's life.  What better story could one ask for?

 


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