A lot of people love the John Irving novel, “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” Luckily, I haven’t read it, so I can’t mourn for the atrocities performed on it by Writer/Director Mark Steven Johnson. If you were expecting a small art film, you know you’re in trouble when the first thing you see is Jim Carrey.
Jimbo narrates this (shudder) coming of age story. As a child, his best friend was Simon Birch. Simon was a precocious dwarf born in New England. In 1964, when Simon and our narrator, Joe, now played by Joseph Mazello, were both 12, we witness the summer that changed the life of both boys. A whole lotta hilarity ensues.
To be fair, there are not many opportunities for the vertically challenged to study with Stella Adler. The job offers tend to range from Jawa to Ewok (“Goddammit, I’m Warwick Davis, I’m a giant in this business!”), so a rather broad performance can be expected.
However, once Jan Hooks appeared as a manic-depressive Sunday school teacher, I was curious how long it would take for the film to degenerate into a Saturday Night Live sketch. It took about an hour and twenty minutes. That would be the Christmas pageant where Simon has to play the baby Jesus, because he can fit in the crib (Hey, they cast the queasy fat kid who’s afraid of heights as the angel hanging from the ceiling. I wonder where they’re going with that?).
Joe’s mother (Ashley Judd) never married and never told Joe who his father is. But does she struggle like a typical single mother? No, she and Joe live with her rich mother in her giant house with her servants, and she happens to look like Ashley Judd. Nobody has to slave away in the mines, nobody worries where their next meal is coming from. We’re supposed to relate to most of the main characters as outsiders, but no one seems to suffer too much.
Can Hollywood make one of these movies so that it resembles someone’s actual childhood? Could they not beat us senseless with the life lessons? Could they turn off the period music for five f–king minutes? I don’t know. The last two GOOD coming of age movies I’ve seen were independent films (“All of Me” and “Whatever”). I guess you need to just go out and make the movie before a studio makes a total production out of it.