Twelve-year-old dwarf Simon Birch thinks he will be used as a hero by God and befriends 12-year-old Joe, who seeks to find his biological father. Though containing some foul language and a few inappropriate behaviors, SIMON BIRCH presents a strong Christian worldview exemplifying grace, mercy and faith.
(CCC, BBB, LL, V, A, D, M) Strong Christian worldview emphasizing faith in God, belief that God has made oneself special, prayer, offering thanks to God, discussions of spiritual matters, church attendance, expressions of love, Scripture reading, & inclusion of Christian services, with a couple negative portrayals of Christian leaders; 14 obscenities (some mild), 6 profanities, several vulgarities, & one foul gesture; mild violence including breaking & entering, smashing a window, woman accidentally killed by baseball, kicking, & scary bus crash; no sex, but sexual attraction & boy grabs girl's breasts implied; no nudity, but boys swim at lake; adult alcohol use; adults smoke; and, a few rebellious attitudes.
SIMON BIRCH is the most spiritually intuitive, spiritually sensitive, pro-God, pro-faith movie released so far this year. The story begins with an adult Joe Wenteworth (played by an unbilled Jim Carrey) visiting the grave of his childhood friend Simon Birch (played by first-time actor Ian Michael Smith). Joe says that Simon is the reason he believes in God. Based loosely on John Irving’s book A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY, the story is Joe’s memory of a remarkable dwarfed boy with great faith in God who became a hero and an instrument of God’s grace.
In a flashback narrated by the adult Joe, the audience learns that Simon is the smallest delivery ever recorded in the history of Gravestown Memorial Hospital. The doctors proclaim Simon a miracle, and ever since then, he has been quick to remind anyone who forgets.
The movie then jumps ahead to 1964, 12 years later. Simon and Joe (Joseph Mazzello) are now best friends and are on the same baseball team, where the coach only uses Simon to get a virtually automatic walk. Both feel like outsiders because his mother refuses to tell anyone, even Joe, who his father is, and the townspeople, including Simon’s parents, don’t seem to care much for Simon. Happily, Joe’s mother, Rebecca, played by Ashley Judd, constantly displays great love and kindness to both boys. Simon is certain God is going to make him a hero…he is just not sure how.
At Sunday School, Simon takes the blame from tyrannical Sunday School teacher Miss Leavey (Jan Hooks) for trouble caused by his fellow students. During a church service, Simon confronts the by-the-book Episcopalian priest the Reverend Russell (David Strathairn) with issues about faith and complaints about the church’s allegedly meaningless social functions. Later in the movie, their differences center on Simon’s belief that God has a plan for every individual person. The Reverend Russell eventually tells Simon that he needs to stop coming to church for a while because everybody needs a break from him.
One day, an unexpected turn occurs when Simon gets to hit the ball for the first time during a baseball game. A high foul ball yields tragic consequences. From that mement, the destinies of the two boys become linked as both try to find the one thing they are missing. For Joe, it is the identity of his father. For Simon, it is the special purpose God has in mind that only a small miracle like Simon can fulfill. On an outdoor Christmas vacation excursion with the third-graders at the church, both Joe and Simon find the answers to their questions.
SIMON BIRCH, the movie, demonstrates uncommon friendship, uncommon faith in God, and more. It includes lines like, “I don’t need proof, I have faith,” and, “God has a plan for everyone,” and “Blessed is he whose transgressions are is forgiven (Psalm 32:1 and Romans 4:7).” Simon Birch, the human, represents a sort of modern day Zacchaeus, a man short on stature and despised by society, but visited by God. He is the holy fool who confronts the Pharisees of his day, the ineffectual religious leaders who may have position and some knowledge, but no soul, heart, compassion, or Christ-like spirit. Unlike some Christians who see fallen Christian leaders, Simon’s faith doesn’t waver, but remains steadfast. His leadership may be fallen, but that doesn’t stop him from coming to church, where he knows he will be able to glean some truth from the ceremonies. In fact, through time and patience, the Reverend Russell eventually grows and becomes more Christ-like.
Another positive element the movie explores is the nature of family and fathers. Joe does find his biological father, but he also finds a father figure. The movie gives a positive, if unspoken, endorsement to adoption. Rebecca essentially adopts Simon and shows motherly love toward him, while Rebecca’s suitor, Ben Goodrich (Oliver Platt in another fine performance), demonstrates fatherly love toward Joe.
SIMON BIRCH does have a few immoral elements. For a PG-rated movie, it has more than the expected few obscenities and profanities, but not all are hard and many are spoken during tragedy and difficulty. Plus, an irreverent moment occurs when Simon, playing the baby Jesus in the Christmas story play, reaches up and grabs the breast of the pubescent girl playing Mary, a girl toward whom he has been attracted. The grab is not shown, but it fuels a series a humorous chaotic moments, which spoils the play. Though his behavior is not excusable, Simon didn’t ask to play Jesus. Being a boy entering puberty, he seized an opportunity without thinking of the consequences.
Every year, it seems that one movie shows a greater insight into God, faith, Christ, and the human condition than all others. This year, SIMON BIRCH may be that example. God does indeed want all of us to have childlike faith in Him. He does want us to know that He loves us and has a plan for our lives. A big part of that plan is for us is to love Him and to love our neighbors. He also wants religious leaders to be examples of faith and not frustrations for the flock. And, He wants us to be heroes, champions of grace, love and mercy. SIMON BIRCH teaches all these things in a uniquely wonderful, well-acted, charming, and moving way.
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