By John Mulderig
Catholic News Service
NEW YORK (CNS) — "Every life is beautiful." That’s the tagline — as well as the underlying theme — of the thoroughly honorable, if not always fully effective, drama "October Baby" (Provident/Samuel Goldwyn).
After she collapses on stage during the opening night of a college play, freshman Hannah Lawson (Rachel Hendrix) winds up in the hospital and on the receiving end of two pieces of staggering news: She learns first, that her devoted parents — mom Grace (Jennifer Price) and dad Jacob (John Schneider) — adopted her as an infant. And second, that she’s the survivor of an attempted abortion.
As her doctor explains, the latter fact accounts for the chronic medical problems that have long plagued Hannah and that culminated in her blackout.
Devastated and bewildered by this sudden revelation, Hannah sets out in search of her birth mother, Cindy (Shari Rigby). She’s accompanied on her journey by Jason (Jason Burkey), her best friend since childhood. He’s arranged for them to hitch a ride with a group of fellow students who are off to New Orleans for Mardi Gras.
In their feature debut, brothers Andrew and Jon Erwin helm a strongly pro-life message movie whose import viewers dedicated to the dignity of all human beings will welcome unanimously. Opinions about the aesthetic package in which they wrap their point, however, may be more divided.
The spring break-style odyssey on which Hannah and Jason tag along is obviously intended to provide some much-needed light relief. But only some of the comedy centering on the expedition’s leader, disheveled but good-hearted B-Mac (Chris Sligh), works.
Instead of being kept in sharp focus, Hannah’s potentially poignant vulnerability on discovering that she was unwanted — and that her very existence was treated as disposable by her own mother — gets diffused amid more conventional expressions of teen angst and confusion.
Hannah’s admirable adherence to Christian sexual morality, moreover — she and Jason share an unspoken but unmistakable mutual attraction — becomes the occasion for a mumbled apology rather than an explanation as resolute as her actions.
But the Erwins’ project does have some undeniable cinematic assets: The first part of their story, for instance, plays out against adeptly shot bucolic backgrounds. And Jasmine Guy turns in a strong performance as Mary, a retired nurse who once worked in the abortion mill where Hannah was almost killed.
Perhaps in a nod to the vital role Catholics have played in the struggle against abortion, a climactic scene is set in a cathedral explicitly identified as Catholic.
There Hannah, a self-identified Baptist, not only seeks counsel in prayer, but from a kindly priest who happens by. The advice he gives her, however, is more evangelical in tone than Catholic; he emphasizes an individual relationship with God while at least implicitly downplaying the importance of the church. But there is certainly no direct contradiction of Catholic teaching, and the scene can be viewed as an informal version of confession.
Laudably, the script avoids the temptation to demonize Cindy. Though she proves unequal to the challenge of Hannah’s abrupt reappearance in her life, she’s also shown to have gone on to marriage and motherhood as well as to a successful career.
Those determined to be cynical may nonetheless find it a bit pat that Cindy is an urbanite and a lawyer, while Grace and Jacob maintain their red-state values surrounded by the lush pastoral landscape that makes for all that inviting cinematography.
The film contains mature subject matter and potentially disturbing references. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.