I’m not against religious movies. I’m not. I’m for anything that has a good story. But one of the categories of mediocre stories, for me, is the one where thesis is substituted for theme. You know what a thesis is. It’s that thing English teachers talk about day and night: the controlling idea of an essay, the idea to which everything in your essay points. Theme is more subtle; it’s an idea, yes, but one that permeates the story, like morning light revealing the details of a landscape.
October Baby has a thesis, not a theme. And so its effect is more essay-like than story-like. I’ll focus on one scene to illustrate my point.
Hannah, the central character, is a nineteen-year-old woman who’s been feeling dizzy, sick, and moody. Her parents take her to a doctor, but even he is stymied about the cause, until her parents reveal, in a rush right there in the doctor’s office, that not only was Hannah adopted, she was also born after a failed abortion.
If you’re a story cop, now’s the time you’ll want to pop the whirling red light on top of your squad car.
Would any parents, but especially the hyper-religious parents in the movie, be so off-hand and blunt in revealing the circumstances of their adopted daughter’s birth?
“Dad, Mom, I just don’t feel well, and I don’t know why.”
“It’s because not only are you adopted, but your birth mother also tried to abort you.”
OK, no, I’m not quoting directly from the movie, but the bluntness is all there. Real human beings—especially loving—don’t act this way. Someone might hasten to point out that the movie was inspired by a real person’s efforts to come to terms with similar circumstances. Or that real people say and do the craziest things sometimes. But reality is never an excuse for bad character development.
Why are the parents so blunt in the scene and nowhere else in the movie? Because the movie-makers needed to nail down that thesis by any means necessary and at whatever cost to credulity.
In case you’re wondering, this isn’t the only eye-rolling moment in the movie.
Unbelievable coincidences abound. And the dialogue is so over-loaded with exposition that characters sometimes seem like a string of exposition mules.
Didn’t I like anything? I thought the performances were mostly solid. First-timer Rachel Hendrix does a good job with a tough role. And Jasmine Guy has an affecting scene that makes us forget, though only for a moment, the ham-handed story construction. And several of the actors bring believability to their roles.
And anyway, the makers of October Baby have nothing to fear from my little rant. Their production costs came in at around a million. And so far, the movie has made over three-and-a-half million. They’ve got a minor hit on their hands. The movie’s success, and the growing popularity of Christian-themed movies, may be an indication that movie-makers have reached out to a segment of the audience that has been ignored for too long. I’m all for a greater variety of movies. I mean, is anyone else, like me, worried that the spate of superhero movies might trigger a world-wide Lycra shortage?
But seriously, how about a little more subtlety and a keener eye for story and character development?