This week Video Vault gets moved by the heartwarming tale of 1998’s Simon Birch. Loosely based on John Irving‘s 1989 novel A Prayer for Owen Meany, the film stars Jurassic Park‘s Joseph Mazzello and first-and-only-time actor, Ian Michael Smith, as best friends growing up in a 1950’s small New England town. Ashley Judd, Oliver Platt, Jim Carrey, David Strathairn, and Jan Hooks are also featured. It is the directorial debut of writer/director Mark Steven Johnson, the man who is responsible for bringing us such classics as Daredevil, Ghost Rider, and When in Rome. I guess some of us peak early.
The largely episodic plot chronicles the friendship between Joe (Mazzello), the boy with the hottest single mom in town (Judd), and Simon Birch (Smith), a sarcastic, Jesus-loving, little person with a voice like “strangled mice” and a weakness for boobs. The duo go through trials and tribulations and learn a bunch of stuff along the way, all the while Simon is waiting to fulfill his purpose as he believes he is an ‘instrument of God’. They ruin a Christmas pageant when Simon grabs a pair of prepubescent breasts. A stuffed armadillo is a major plot point. When Simon accidentally kills Joe’s mom with a foul baseball (!), their friendship is put to the test as the two begin a quest to discover who Joe’s unknown father is. In the finale Simon fulfills his destiny as an instrument of God, blah, blah, blah. I cannot give all the spoilers away because the film is worth seeing. Jim Carrey narrates and portrays adult Joe in the frame story.
Simon Birch is a delightful family feature! Even though it covers some serious subject matter, the tone is mostly light and I would say that is feels a lot like the cinematic classic The Sandlot, but with a bit more whimsy punctuated with moments of intense drama. They could easily take place in the same universe though. The friendly and nostalgic narration, small town 1950’s Americana, a giant dog, and importance of baseball to the story add a lot to that sentiment, I am sure. All the actors do a fantastic job, but it is Smith’s award-winning performance as the title character that steals the show. He delivers hilarious one-liners and witticisms with easy while also nailing the heartfelt drama. The genuineness and joyfulness he brings to the character is as much an inspiration in real life as it is in the film. There is some pretty great physical comedy too. Bummer he has not acted since. Critics of the film will say that it is overly sentimental and tries too hard to tug the heartstrings. That’s bullshit! Who doesn’t like feeling inspired and empowered after a movie! If you don’t like it, than you must not like things that make people feel good. You probably don’t like boobs. I hope you get hit in the head with a baseball.