Review by Gene
Perhaps other Christians experience this as well, but I feel like I’m always getting suggestions of these great Christian movies I need to watch. I am always assured that, “The message is so spiritual”, and “It really touched my heart”. Somehow about half of them seem to star Kirk Cameron. And, somehow, with almost all of them I’m left wondering if a high school drama student directed it. Maybe that’s a little harsh, but I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way. “Christian” movies are some of the cheesiest and cliché-ridden productions I’ve ever watched. Is the message usually a good one? Certainly. Is it delivered well? Almost never. Secular Hollywood seems to have no problem relaying emotionally charged and gripping messages, so what’s the deal with Christian actors and directors? It was with this mindset that I finally sat down to give October Baby a chance, and I must say that this film took some amazing strides in dispelling all those stereotypes.
First and foremost, October Baby is a Christian movie with a Christian message centered around abortion. It is produced by the same production company that gave us Facing the Giants and Fireproof, among others, and directed by Andrew and Jon Erwin, a duo that emphasizes faith and redemption. Secondly, forget about your image of a typical Christian film with “put on” emotional climaxes and impossible coincidences. Rachel Hendrix, playing the lead role of Hannah, does an excellent job of portraying the depth necessary for this character, and at times in the film her performance and her nuances in facial expressions reminded me a bit of Anne Hathaway. I think she has a promising future in the film industry. To be fair there are a couple of those “oh how convenient” type moments that you find in many Christian films that seem to struggle to connect the dots in a fluid way, but they came nowhere near ruining the film for me.
The movie opens with Hannah, a college student, in what seems to be her on-stage debut. When the curtains open she barely makes it through two lines before anxiety and an asthma attack send her to the floor and into a seizure. We soon learn that, although she does have an extensive history of medical problems, she hasn’t experienced this level of an attack in a while. Hannah’s parents Jacob and Grace, played by John Schneider (Dukes of Hazzard, Smallville) and Jennifer Price, grow increasingly concerned when they find what Hannah has been writing in her journal. Hannah writes, “Why do I feel unwanted… like I have no right to exist…”. The doctor tells her he believes both her physical ailments and her emotional issues are all linked. It is at this moment she is told she is adopted. However, Hannah wasn’t simply put up for adoption. She was the survivor of a failed abortion.
There are occasional scriptural references throughout the film. Hannah writes in her journal about searching for the truth and wondering if it will make her free (Jn. 8:32). A Catholic priest plays off the inspiration to build a cathedral to reference what Paul wrote to the Colossians about forgiveness (Col. 3:13). But for a Christian film about abortion there is no mention or quotation, that I can recall, of some of the “go to” verses on the topic such as Jeremiah 1:5 or Psalms 139:13, 15. I have to think they were intentionally left out. The movie doesn’t get into the “debate” on abortion but rather keeps it’s focus on the impact it had on Hannah and others. Not including such verses may have been a step to soften the blatantly Christian angle for the more hostile audiences to such a message.
With this new information regarding her birth, and feeling as though her parents have lied to her all her life, Hannah confides in her best friend Jason, played by Jason Burkey. He arranges for Hannah to join a group of friends for their spring break trip to New Orleans. He also arranges a stop in Mobile, Alabama, where Hannah was born in order to track down her biological mother. Burkey does a suitable job as Hannah’s bestie. His character is placed in some odd situations that don’t seem to add much to the story, but are thrown in to give him some conflict as well. Schneider also does well as Hannah’s father. I liked him as Jonathan Kent in the Smallville TV series so I was happy to see a familiar face. As I mentioned though, Rachel Hendrix completely engulfs the lead role and puts a lot of distance between her performance and the rest of the cast.
The emotional drive to the movie really ramps up once the third act begins and Hannah actually tracks down the attending nurse involved in both her botched abortion and her birth. Unfortunately, we have to sit through a couple of those head shaking “how convenient” moments to get there. It’s worth it though, in my opinion. The attending nurse, Mary Rutledge, is played by Jasmine Guy, 6-time Image Award winner for the TV series Different Worlds. The meeting between Hannah and nurse Mary is the pivotal moment in the film. Great detail is given by Mary regarding the abortion. I even found myself wincing at some parts of the description. Having studied abortion a good bit I know the process she was describing is accurate with 2nd trimester abortions. I wonder how many supporters of abortion are actually aware of what is done to the child in the womb in order to destroy it. I have to believe they have no idea and buy into the “non-viable tissue” line. Believing otherwise would cause my hope in humanity to sink further than watching the evening news for a week straight.
The drama remains high for most of the remainder of the film as Hannah learns more and more about her birth and the details surrounding her survival and adoption. Hannah ventures to a Catholic cathedral which her adoptive mother used to pray at. There she runs into a priest who gives her some crucial advice. Paraphrasing Paul from Colossians, he tells Hannah that “in Christ you’re forgiven. And because you’re forgiven, you have the power to forgive.” There are so many things we hold onto in life. Things we hold against other people and things we develop a hatred of ourselves for. We don’t have to hold onto those things. We have a Savior in Jesus that can extend to us the forgiveness of the Father. And because of that we can find the peace needed to forgive others as well.
Hannah continues what she started, now joined by her father. Some closure is shown for the birth mother, for Hannah’s father and for Hannah. She begins putting that forgiveness into action, letting go of the hatred she has had toward others and, especially, herself for so long. The final scene is especially endearing. Hannah embraces her father and thanks him for such a simple thing: for wanting her.
My Rating: 4/5
My knee-jerk rating upon first watch was a 4.5/5. After watching a second time I noticed more of the “cheesy” things I’d mentioned are prevalent in Christian films than I did the first time around, so I took it down a tick. Not only is the message strong but it is met with solid directing and a very strong performance from the lead actress. Andrew and Jon Erwin take a slightly more artistic approach with some of the filming and I think that helps it. There were also some moments of laughter that caught me off guard. They are delivered as simple one-liners and are more funny than I guess I thought they would be. Props to James Austin Johnson for providing most of those moments. The soundtrack is beautiful. It is comprised mostly of soft yet climactic modern Christian songs. It is always complimenting and enhancing the mood of the scene and never distracting from it. I think if you go into this movie with an open mind you can find something to like despite the often controversial topic it revolves around.
Another thing worth noting is how this movie is rated online. IMDB publishes a weighted average rating of 6.1/10. The actual mean rating is a 7.5/10. The weighted average published for most movies is usually within 2 or 3 tenths of the actual mean. Not sure what is up with this one being knocked down so much. Hop on Rotten Tomatoes and you’ll see it gets 22% from critics, but 81% from Flixster users. An incredible spread, one of the largest I’ve ever seen. I ran across one review in particular from Andrew O’Hehir at Salon.com. He stated, “The odds that this has happened in the real world approach those of being struck by lighting and eaten by a shark at the same time. With a winning lottery ticket tucked in your swimsuit.” I am awestruck by such a statement and the ignorance in reveals. I wonder what Nick Hoot, Melissa Ohden, Claire Culwell or Gianna Jessen would think of those odds.
Bmac “Sometimes I write songs based on dreams I imagine other people had.”
Truman “I didn’t know sticks and stones could break your beard.”
Mary “I saw him shaking there. I saw the pain. And I didn’t see no tissue. I just saw the face of a child.”
Hannah “I have a wild side. Have you seen me play Scrabble?”