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SIMON BIRCH

SYNOPSIS:
Eleven year old Simon Birch (Ian Michael Smith) was born a dwarf. Despite (or perhaps because of) his disability, he believes he has been chosen for something special by God - to be a hero. Unfortunately, he doesn’t quite fit into the small town of Graveston, Maine. His parents have practically disowned him and he encounters trouble with the local priest (David Strathairn) and Sunday school teacher (Jane Hooks). But he’s found a soulmate in Joe (Joseph Mazzello), another kid in his class. Joe’s mother (Ashley Judd) is unmarried and has never disclosed the name of the father, which causes Joe to be something of an outcast too. He’s also having trouble adjusting to his mother’s new man (Oliver Platt). When tragedy cruelly intervenes in both their lives, Simon and Joe embark on individual journeys - Joe to find his father, and Simon to find his destiny.

"Despite being "suggested" by John Irving’s novel A Prayer for Owen Meany, Simon Birch is basically Irving-lite. The film bears a passing resemblance to the book, but fails to follow through on its deeper concerns. Although no doubt well-intentioned, director Mark Johnson has created a treacly confection which is pleasant but lacks substance. The character of Simon himself is treated quite badly by the script; essentially being reduced to a cute, precocious tyke rather than a fully rounded person. Compare this with the dignity accorded the handicapped Rose in Dance Me to My Song. Also, the plot’s major surprises are telegraphed well in advance, making the whole thing rather anticlimactic. Ian Michael Smith is very good as Simon; but his character only has two pitches - smartass and maudlin. The real revelation in the cast is Joseph Mazzello as Joe, who brings a quiet assurance to his part. Oliver Platt, Ashley Judd and David Strathairn are all fine, even though they get limited screen time; and Jim Carrey provides an uncredited cameo as the adult Joe in the bookend sequences. Simon Birch looks great thanks to some stunning New England scenery and architecture; even if the town is a little too Edward Hopper. If you’re in the mood for some life lessons told Readers Digest style, with a generous dose of sugar to help them down, Simon Birch may be for you. But like all sugar rushes, it leaves an empty feeling a few hours later."
David Edwards

"Few films that deal with children are as moral or as poetic as this exquisite little gem. Simon Birch is not only a detailed study of friendship, but also a poetic examination of the nature and quest for faith, from the perspectives of two very different children. Beautifully shot, Simon Birch is a very special film, nicely put together devoid of adolescent cliché. Sensitively and intelligently written, the film boasts some of the finest ensemble performances of recent memory. The film succeeds or fails in your acceptance of the miniscule title character, a boy who believes he's destined for heroism. Ian Michael Smith is a rare find, and his performance is unique. Small he might be, but newcomer Smith gives Simon maturity, eloquence, grace and a heroic stature that befits the character, while Co-star Mazzello is equally impressive as the boyhood friend who discovers faith in a different way. The adults are superb. Oliver Platt, who often plays flawed characters, is splendid as the local drama teacher who befriends the boys, while the always-marvellous David Strathairn excels as the local priest. Ashley Judd has a small but pivotal role, and she lights up the screen as Joe's alluring single mother. Simon Birch has a wonderfully realised, literate script, that says a lot about heroism, loss and childhood. It's a meticulously crafted work, and a film that children should see, because the messages it communicates are important in an age of pap simplicity."
Paul Fischer

"Time is a monster that cannot be reasoned with," says one character in Simon Birch, and that sums up much of the meaning of this film - but there's more to it than that. Simon Birch grasps one extraordinary character and shapes him in a good-natured and solidly made film. It is a film with meaning and significance; one that uses emotion to keep its audience interested. The crucial title performance from young Ian Michael Smith is the most remarkable act since Roberto Benigni - here is an actor decades ahead of his time, a little boy who captures our heart and makes it hurt. The supporting cast is also wonderful, including Jim Carrey's small but important part. Simon Birch is simplistic in formation and unashamedly sentimental, yet it deserves to be respected and admired for its insights into the human endeavors of faith, devotion and friendship. A lovely little film that wears its heart on its shoulders, Simon Birch is a charming journey to the heart of one of societies lovable misfits."
Luke Buckmaster, Teen Critic

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 0

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TRAILER

SOFCOM MOVIE TIMES

SIMON BIRCH (PG)
(US)

CAST: Ian Michael Smith, Ashley Judd, Joseph Mazzello, Oliver Platt, David Strathairn

DIRECTOR: Mark Steven Johnson

PRODUCER: Roger Birnbaum, Laurence Mark

SCRIPT: Mark Steven Johnson

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Aaron Schneider

EDITOR: David Finfer

MUSIC: Marc Shaiman

PRODUCTION DESIGN: David Chapman

RUNNING TIME: 114 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Buena Vista

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 29, 1999







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