October Baby – 2011

Director Andrew and Jon Erwin
Starring Rachel Hendrix, Jason Burkey, John Schneider, Jennifer Price, Jasmine Guy, Chris Sligh, Robert Amaya, Shari Rigby, Tracy Miller
Screenplay Cecil Stokes, Jon Erwin

“This is who you are…”

There is a point in October Baby when Hannah (Hendrix) has entered the place where her birth mother works.  It is the nice, luxurious office of a lawyer, filled with mahogany and oak and other expensive looking furniture.  She passes by a framed hand drawn picture of a little girl with her mother.  This picture is obviously drawn by the younger child of the woman whose office she was in.  Within minutes Hannah is recognized and denied by the woman.  Shocked and heartbroken, she handles the situation with a dignity that her birth mother did not deserve.

The curious thing about that picture drawn by the little girl is the blissful ignorance behind it.  Her mother had just met the proof of a life she tried to extinguish and that is just the start of the horror.  It’s a truth that, if she is lucky, she will not be face in her life.  It’s a truth that one would hope that no one else would be put through.

Meanwhile, back in her life, Hannah has been through a harrowing couple of weeks, brought on by medical problems.  Finding out that she had been not only adopted, but that her biological mother had tried to abort her, she is also confronted with her own journal, filled with the confused musings of a teenager.  She is beset with a friendship that is struggling with the friend being attached to someone else.  At this point, she reluctantly joins a caravan that her friend Jason (Burkey) hopes will help her get some answers.

Her parents are against the trip, particularly her father, Jacob (Schneider, who has not aged).  They are really not sure what they should do, just like their daughter.  Everyone has a lot of stuff to overcome, and no one is sure how to do it.  Just when Jacob thinks Hannah will refrain from taking the trip, she leaves.

The middle part of the film has some serious lag.  There are awkward attempts at humor that feel they belong in another movie.  There is a tension between Hannah and Jason’s girlfriend that is almost as forced as the pretense of their being nothing between Hannah and Jason.  The whole circle seems unnecessary to the plot, as relationships are hard enough to navigate.  Mainly it seems like a means to an end to get Hannah alone with Jason and make it look innocent, which is hard to do with those in their late teens.

After a few more jumps, we get to Jasmine Guy, as a nurse that was present at Hannah’s “birth.”  The experience is very moving and quite convincing.  There is a ton of information conveyed in her scene, and she gives it everything that it needs to start the last 1/3 of the movie off on the right foot.

And what a conclusion it is.  So many angles represented so sensitively, the film arrives to a staggering set of information, events and reactions that would move even the most hardened viewer.

Hendrix does her best work in these scenes.  The events catch up to her brood, and not so surprisingly, they fit with a passive, comfortable grace.  Once freed of the unnecessary subplot, her counterpart, Jason, gives a decent performance as a fellow traveler in the haze.  Schneider and Price are effective as Hannah’s parents.  Their effectiveness within the plot is measured by the way my wife and I responded to decisions that were made.  She fell in line with the mother’s way of thinking, and I am torn, just like the father.  No one knows for sure what to do, but they are all sure that they are acting out of love.  Shari Rigby gives an absolutely convincing performance as the birth mother, which is understandable once you watch the credits.

Another positive in the film is the timely use of an excellent soundtrack.  After starting off with a somewhat oppressive first quarter, it settles intricately within the mood of the film, where other soundtracks might be used to force a feeling.  There is plenty of feeling already present here, and the directors are wise enough to realize this.

The conclusion of the film seems overly simple, but it is not.  There is a surprising lack of prejudice for such a group of sensitive issues portrayed in the story.  This is a deft decision by the filmmakers.  In their recognition of a very simple idea expressed by a police officer (Miller) – hate the sin and not the sinner – the filmmakers have the best chance to portray the true Grace of God.  People of all political stripes should see this film.  It will move you in the fairest way and with the best message possible.

So I am back to Hannah, sitting in that lawyer’s office, and all I can think of is what an amazing feeling it must be to be pretended out of existence.  It’s a feeling that brings a serious amount of emotion to me.  Thankfully, after watching the whole of this story, including the credits, forgiveness can rest easily beside the tears.

(***1/2 out of *****)

P.S. – Although I conclude that this is a family film, I recommend waiting until your children are old enough to process the information.  This is one of the rare occasions where the MPAA get the rating right at PG-13.

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