What You Need To Know:
Adam Butcher is perfectly cast as Ralph. So is Campbell Scott as Father Hibbard, a humanist priest who regains his faith in God when he sees how Ralph’s newfound faith has improved Ralph’s personality and inspired the townspeople. Despite a strong Christian worldview overall, the movie contains some strong sexual references, especially in the first third, and strong profanities. SAINT RALPH also contains some problematic theology. Finally, the ending is left too unresolved.
(CC, FR, Ab, H, Ho, LL, SS, NN, AA, D, M) Ultimately strong, but somewhat whimsical, Christian worldview about faith in God, from a Roman Catholic perspective, with some false religious notions about miracles, what makes a saint and a teenage boy’s visions of God who appears in a Santa Claus hat, and head priest at school is negative at times and younger priest has abandoned his faith in God for humanism but regains it, as well as one character appears to be a lesbian, but this is left somewhat vague; three obscenities and eight strong profanities; no violence; strong references to teenage masturbation and teenager’s sexual arousal, depicted voyeurism, two teenagers kiss twice, and movie vaguely implies that one character is a lesbian; rear female nudity in a sexual situation of voyeurism; alcohol use by a teenager; smoking by a teenager; and, miscellaneous immorality such as lying and teenage rebellion.
SAINT RALPH has a lot of heart. Set in 1953 and 1954, it is about a young teenager in a Catholic school in Canada whose father died in World War II and whose mother is suffering from cancer. Ralph has tried to figure out how to fend for himself and dutifully encourages his mother in the hospital. When his mother falls into a coma, he starts looking for a miracle and seizes upon the idea that winning the Boston marathon would be such a miracle.
Through serious research, Ralph finds out that one of his teachers, Father Hibbert, had been a runner in the 1936 Olympics. With the help of Father Hibbert and his friend Claire, Ralph tries to purify himself, pray and train for the big event, hoping beyond hope that, if he does all the right things, God will grant him that miracle. When Ralph unexpectedly wins a local long-distance race, his faith and hope are strengthened as he prepares for the Boston Marathon.
SAINT RALPH has some good and some bad Catholic authority figures. It has all the trials and tribulations of being in a high school setting. The good parts involve discovery of grace, faith, purity, and Christian virtues. The not so good parts involve some false religious notions about miracles, the definition of a saint, a whimsical image of God, and some possible works righteousness, which are not rebuked. The bad parts involve way too much emphasis on sexual arousal and self abuse, especially in the first quarter of the movie. There is also some brief teenage smoking and drinking, lying which is not clearly rebuked, and strong profanity, even while Ralph is seeking purification.
Without all these bad and questionable elements, SAINT RALPH could have found a very broad audience among the WINN-DIXIE, SPY KIDS crowd. These elements put it into R-rated territory, although the MPAA decided to give the movie a PG-13 rating. A little editing could cure most of the problems, because, beyond these problems, SAINT RALPH has a lot of heart, hope and faith. For example, the teenage protagonist learns how to be a better Christian. He also strengthens his faith in God and the possibility of miracles, despite the adversities and disappointments he faces.
Adam Butcher is perfectly cast as Ralph. So is Campbell Scott as Father Hibbard, a humanist priest who regains his faith in God when he sees how Ralph’s newfound faith has improved Ralph’s personality, given Ralph purpose and inspired the townspeople. First-time director Michael McGowan, himself a former Detroit Marathon winner in 1985, has written a whimsical, heartwarming script.
One more caveat, however. The movie’s ending is too whimsical and not fully resolved. Hence, it is not as clear and satisfying as it could have been. A little title card at the end saying what finally happened to the protagonist and his mother might help. As it is, the last image of the movie gives a clue to what has happened, but viewers have to make too big of an assumption. Once again, a little editing or rearranging might help clarify things.
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