By BRUCE DENNILL
Where Hope Grows / Directed by Chris Dowling / 10 7
Joyce Meyer: A Confident Attitude / A 5
Room / Directed by Lenny Abrahamson / 13V 8
Brooklyn / Directed by John Crowley / PG13 6
Judging by the DVD cover, viewers should expect When Hope Grows to be the worst kind of clichéd rah-rah American drivel. The artwork covers shows a baseball player and a young man with Down Syndrome – cue the swelling violins and the kid with challenges inspired by the sports hero, all handled terribly in a predictable, plodding script. Fortunately, the film itself is miles better: well-written, well-acted, well-paced and thoroughly enjoyable. Kristoffer Polaha (think a budget Josh Brolin, with the same flawed, macho charm) is Calvin Campbell, the ex-ball player ridden with regrets who meets the young man, named Produce, at his local grocery store (the name sits awkwardly, but the character, played by David DeSanctis, transcends it with his cheerfulness and integrity) and finds something to connect with; to hold on to as he tries to regain control of his life. Campbell has a 17-year-old daughter who’s dating the local high school jock – the very worst kind of arrogant, entitled shmuck – but is not in a position to lay down the law given his own behaviour. The film builds from that platform to both take on prejudice and gently recommend the value of a sound spiritual foundation, all the while providing a fine character study of an essentially decent man provoked by ordinary, common demons into sliding into a place where he lost perspective before being given an unusual opportunity to redeem himself. Ignore the misleading packaging – the film has real value.
Joyce Meyer is a renowned Christian teacher with decades of experience and a considerable following. She’s a forthright speaker, sometimes to the point of abruptness, which may put some viewers off (though it’s also refreshing when she gets to the nub of a topic quickly rather than meandering poetically all over the place). This presentation on confidence – how to have it when you don’t necessarily feel it and to understand God’s role as the foundation of your assurance – is competently delivered. But there’s a sense that Meyer is a touch too aware of herself as a brand to allow for an intimate connection with the subject matter. That makes this hour-long DVD a decent resource, but not particularly stimulating viewing.
Room redefines the phrase “psychological thriller”. That usually refers to a scenario where a madman is doing something criminal. Here, there are thrills. And there is psychology. They are intertwined, and they are separate. There is a madman, certainly, a peripheral character who is responsible for the context in which most of the action takes place – a sealed room occupied by a young mother (Brie Larson) and her son Jack (Jacob Tremblay), imprisoned there by their captor. They have structured their world in a way that makes sense to them; that makes them feel safe, even as they remain aware that it is not right, that it is not fair. Ma makes a great many sacrifices to keep Jack physically and emotionally healthy, and the youngster responds admirably – with Tremblay’s portrayal of all of this mind-blowingly good, given his youth. When the pair’s circumstances change later in the piece so, understandably, does their mindset. Suggesting Stockholm Syndrome is too simple: these are people forced to love two lives in one lifespan, and the way this is unpacked, by author Emma Donoghue in the book this film is based on and by director Lenny Abrahamson on screen, is affecting and stimulating. It’s also evisceratingly sad, though that may only hit home sometime after the end of the piece, as viewers digest what they have seen and try to imagine a perspective that could make what happens to Ma and Jack okay, and as they consider what their own reaction to the situation might have been. Horrifying, lovely, wretched and triumphant.
Stories built around the theme of relocating to new countries are often dark and heartbreaking, particularly when set in eras when the infrastructure involved was not as developed as it is now (when, ironically, the dark and heartbreaking immigration stories are all in the newspapers rather than in novels). Brooklyn is a compact character study centered on young Irish woman Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan), who leaves home and family in Ireland – where she has a good, if not particularly stimulating life – for New York City and its potential for rewarding ambition. There follow cycles of homesickness and happy progress both professionally and personally, with Eilis coming out of her shell in every way. When she is compelled to return to her homeland, it is on unfamiliar terms – she is confident, composed … and conflicted, given her accomplishments in the US. In this new guise, she has a fresh impact on her old friends and acquaintances, which causes complications when she must decide when to return, or if doing so is a good idea. There’s plenty of dramatic potential in this story and a strong lead performance from Ronan, with support from the reliable likes of Jim Broadbent, Julie Walters and Emory Cohen as her Italian-American love interest. The problem is that everything feels like it resolves too simply. You don’t want to wish conflict on anyone, but other than early on, in interactions with a brittle, uptight employer, Eilis seems to have it pretty easy, with any complications largely of her own making. The result is a film that’s generally pleasing and easy to watch, but never truly enthralling. It’s all too neat – an interesting look into a period and a particular perspective, but not the powerful narrative it hints at being early on.