|Michael A. Maynez|
Your heart is most moved when the strings are least tugged at. Unfortunately, the “Simon Birch’, story, based on John Irving’s novel “A Prayer for Owen Meany” works too hard at its treacle touch. It would have been devastating, but the film written and directed by Mark Steven Johnson, was a difficult film to bring to fruition. To his credit is the casting of a screen find, Ian Michael Smith, whose description in Irving’s novel states, ”He would have to be the size of a doll, born without realistic joints. Light would be both absorbed and reflected in his skin, as with a pearl, so that he appears translucent at times”. These qualities are well emulated by Ian Michael Smith. He in real life suffers from the extremely rare disease Morquio Syndrone, a lack of an enzyme that breaks down complex carbohydrates. The result is abnormal developments to bones, joints and ligaments. Chronic fatigue and pain ensues, also marked by dwarfism.
If I have lingered a bit on the disease, it is because and understanding is important to the story line. The fact that Simon thinks that God has placed him on earth for a purpose, is a key issue. His friend another great performance by Joseph Mazzello, who complements Simon’s life beautifully in trying to have as normal a life as he can under the circumstances, is very touching. A strong cast, Ashley Judd, Oliver Platt and David Strathaim, conspire to enhance this tearjerker. Jim Carrey lends a gracious prologue and epilogue to the picture that is really noteworthy.
Thank God, that the movie is laced with a great deal of humor and humanity, which helps tremendously from being swept away in a sea of tears. Much of the credit has to go to Ian as Simon, he is able to keep things in perspective, just by being as natural as he can be in the swimming, boating and little league baseball game, in which he scores a homer, with tragic consequences. While there is much to like in the movie, there certainly is much more to question. Be sure to take Kleenex.
Ian Michael Smith ----- Simon Birch
Joseph Mazzello ------ Joe Wenteworth
Ashley Judd ---------- Rebecca Wenteworth
Oliver Platt ----------- Ben Goodrich
David Strathairn ------ Rev. Russell
Dana Ivey ----------- Grandmother Wenteworth
Beatrice Winde ------- Hilde Grove
Jan Hooks ------------ Miss Leavey
Cecilley Carroll ------- Marjorie
Sumela Kay ---------- Ann
Jim Carrey ----------- Adult Joe Wenteworth
Directed by ----------- Mark Steven Johnson
Produced by ----------- Roger Birnbaum, Laurence Mark
Executive producer ---- John Baldecchi
Co-producer ---------- Billy Higgins
Associate producer ---- Howard Ellis
Photography by -------- Aaron E. Schneider
Production Design by -- David Chapman
Costume Design by ---- Betsy Heimann, Abram Waterhouse
Edited by -------------- David Finfer
Music by -------------- Marc Shaiman
Written by ------------- Mark Steven Johnson
Based on the novel A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Rated PG for language, emotional thematic elements, and an accident scene.