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The first thing that will strike many viewers on seeing October Baby, a Christian-made movie about a young woman who discovers she is the survivor of an abortion attempt, is how polished it is. Christian moviegoers have grown accustomed to overlooking some of the more common faults of films targeted at us: OK, the acting wasn't great, the dialogue was corny, but the message was good, the intent was good, and it may impact lives. All those things are true. Still, it is a little frustrating when we have to overlook shortcomings we suspect could have been remedied with a bit more patience or practice.
Of course God sometimes presents His children the opportunity to take a shortened or unexpected path. But there's a problem, I think, when the shortened path becomes the rule. When it comes to moviemaking, many young believers with cinematic aspirations seem to think things like film school, internships, and time in the entry-level trenches are unnecessary. Sadly, most of the time (not always), their inexperience shows.
A quick glance at the biographies of writer/directors Jon and Andrew Erwin, however, reveals that the brothers have plenty of miles logged on their professional odometers. Beginning as camera operators for ESPN and Fox NFL, then directing award-winning music videos and commercials, and later producing documentaries, they developed expertise in their craft that goes a long way toward making the worthy idea of October Baby a more-than-worthy viewing experience.
As Hannah, a college student who shows all the signs of having survived a major trauma without remembering what caused them, newcomer Rachel Hendrix demonstrates impressive range. She seems at times immature and silly, at other times pensive and wounded-everything one would expect of a 19-year-old going through such a heart-wrenching experience. There wasn't a moment throughout the film that I didn't believe in her character.
Discovering she was adopted leads Hannah to search for the truth about her birth and to find the woman who once tried to end her life. From there, October Baby is neither predictable nor easy. The closure Hannah finds isn't what the audience expects, but something ultimately more real and thus, more gratifying.
The veteran actors backing up Hendrix pull off emotionally charged material without ever veering into the maudlin. As the nurse who worked in the abortion clinic where Hannah was born, Jasmine Guy delivers a monologue that is sickening in its quiet accuracy. Though Shari Rigby (credited as Shari Wiedmann) is only on-screen for a few minutes, as Hannah's birth-mother, she turns in a performance that will haunt viewers long after the credits have rolled. When one actor performs well, you may be able to give credit only to the actor. When an entire cast performs well, it's a good bet it's thanks to a sharp eye on the part of the director and producers.
Not every element of October Baby works. The romance between Hannah and her childhood best friend is a bit underdeveloped, and I spent the first hour trying to figure out if they were a couple, a former couple, or what exactly was the nature of their relationship. Similarly, the har-dee-har-har antics of her stoner-esque road trip buddy would have been better left on the cutting room floor. But these are minor quibbles set against the impact of the whole.
The Erwins get the biggest thing right: telling Hannah's story-and just Hannah's story-simply and sincerely. Perhaps their most significant accomplishment is that they demonstrate how liberating and joyous forgiveness is-both giving it and receiving it-without putting implausible, sermonizing dialogue into their characters' mouths. They trust their audience to recognize that they're seeing the heart of Christ without shouting that that's what they're supposed to be seeing. The closest the film comes to preaching is when a priest offers Hannah some Bible-based advice that is both affecting and appropriate to the character and the scene.
Currently, October Baby (rated PG-13 for mature themes) is playing in select cities in the Mid-South with plans for a wider release in 2012. Let's hope it's a national release, because with their deft and graceful work, the Erwins have earned the chance to be seen.