There's a power magnet in Hollywood drawing movie-makers and movie-goers towards movies based on best-selling or popular novels.
Starring Joseph Mazzello, Oliver Platt, David Strathairn, Ian Michael Smith, Dana Ivey and Ashley Judd. Written and Directed by Mark Steven Johnson. Suggested by the novel "A Prayer for Owen Meany" by John Irving. Rated PG. Running time: 114.
A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY
A novel by John Irving. Inspired the movie "Simon Birch."
ASHLEY JUDD stars as Simon Birch's mother
I'm no different than the countless others attracted to this cinematic personification of type. When I read a book I have a mental
picture of the characters and the events of the book, but a good movie has the
ability to tie all of those pictures together into a more tangible medium.
Unfortunately, over the years, I have found that movies are usually an
inadequate substitute for the book itself.
Thus, it was with a mix of fear
and anticipation when I heard that John Irving's 1989 bestseller "A Prayer for
Owen Meany" was being transformed into a movie. "Simon Birch" is a movie that,
while good in its own right, just cannot compare to the book upon which it was based.
The premise of the book and the movie are the same. A very small and squeaky
voiced child -- Owen Meany in the novel and Simon Birch in the movie -- believes that he is "God's instrument," and that he was put on earth for some higher purpose. Both the book and movie chronicle the efforts of Owen/Simon to figure out what God's plan for him is.
The movie stars Ian Michael Smith, an 11-year old dwarf, in his acting debut
as Simon Birch. The cast also includes Ashley Judd, Oliver Platt, David
Strathairn and Jim Carrey in a bit part as narrator. The acting, especially
that of Smith and Joseph Mazzello (Jurassic Park), as Simon's best friend Joe,
is excellent. However, there is just not enough material for the two child
actors to work with. The movie does maintain much of the humor of the book,
but its dramatic effect is limited by the restricted time frame upon which the
movie is premised.
Writer/director Mark Steven Johnson's ("Grumpy Old Men" and
"Grumpier Old Men") main goal seems to be to make the audience cry. But the
method in which he accomplishes it -- and he does accomplish it -- is through
movie gimmickry which detracts from the overall movie. Sad music is played,
slow motion is used, tears well up in the other actors eyes; all to make us
cry. It is not that the movie is bad, it just could have been so much better.
Irving's novel presents several obstacles to a successful screen
transformation. First, it is heavily religious, which does not equate to big
box office dollars, and therefore had to be toned down. Second, the novel is very
political, addressing the politically turbulent sixties, the Vietnam War and
the Iran-Contra scandal. These events are either dated or hard to mesh
together during a two hour movie. In addition, Irving's novel is over six hundred
pages long, taking place over the course of almost three decades. The movie is one
hundred fourteen minutes and condenses Simon's life into one year. This is
simply not enough time to get to know the wonderful quirks and history of the
These problems could have been lessened had a major director taken on the
project and worked closely with John Irving. However, Johnson is not that
director. Don't get me wrong, Simon Birch does get at the important themes of
the book, but it is an inadequate substitute for the book. Most movies are --
especially when they take on ambitious novels. However, successful transfers,
such as "Forrest Gump" and "To Kill a Mockingbird" show that it can be done. Simply put, it
was completely frustrating -- and will be to almost everyone who has read the book -- to
see a movie with such good actors, based on such a great book fall so far
ROB GALLO of Wethersfield, CT, is a staff writer and the movie guru of Renaissance Online Magazine.