Simon Birch

on September 11, 1998 by Cathy Thompson-Georges
   Yank, yank, yank--"Simon Birch" tugs so hard for the heartstrings that it attempts to rip them right out of your chest. Loosely adapted from John Irving's novel "A Prayer for Owen Meaney," this film tries like crazy to evoke a world of childish wonder and heartbreak; it's to the credit of a very strong cast and the workmanlike direction of Mark Steven Johnson that it occasionally succeeds.
   Owen Meaney--whoops!--make that Simon Birch (Ian Michael Smith)--is born abnormally small, and his troubles only begin there. Neglected by his family and possessed of the conviction that God has a special plan for him, he becomes the gadfly of the picture-perfect small town in which he lives. His only friend is a fatherless boy named Joe (the wonderful Joseph Mazzello), and the two embark on a "Stand By Me" montage of bittersweet coming-of-age moments. It's not hard to tell early on that Joe will find his real father (we figure it out long before he does), while Simon will win his chance to be a hero.
   The cinematography and writing are as sticky-sweet as a cinnamon bun, but at least a well-chosen cast, including Ashley Judd, Oliver Platt, and David Straithairn, invests the characters with some real interest.
   And Johnson is canny enough to make some of the comic relief quite funny, while the climax (although contrived) is a nail-biter. However, this confection is mostly too sweet to be palatable. Even those who aren't big fans of "A Prayer for Owen Meaney" will agree that the movie's finest moments come when the sheer weirdness of that book spills over into the film.    Starring Joseph Mazzello, Ian Michael Smith and Oliver Platt. Directed and written by Mark Steven Johnson. Produced by Roger Birnbaum and Laurence Mark. Drama. Rated PG for language, emotional thematic elements and an accident scene. Running time: 110 minutes.
Tags: Starring Joseph Mazzello, Ian Michael Smith, Oliver Platt, Directed and written by Mark Steven Johnson, Produced by Roger Birnbaum, Laurence Mark, Drama

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