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Thursday
Mar222012

October Baby

Ask anyone: it’s difficult to watch a film that doesn’t align with your own beliefs. Those who align themselves to the right rarely watch movies by Michael Moore while those to the left are quick to write off a political spoof like An American Carol. Those who devoutly believe in a higher power are less likely to watch a documentary like Religulous while less religious folk try to stay away from Christian propaganda like Letters to God and Fireproof. Well, this week’s pro-life movie, October Baby, is both a religious and right-aligned political film. Little more should need to be said for you to know whether or not this movie is for you, but for those still interested, read on.

The film follows Hannah (Rachel Hendrix), a college freshman who has landed the lead part in a stage play. While performing one night, she collapses and is rushed to the hospital. There, she learns that she suffers from epilepsy that was brought on by a failed abortion attempt when she was still inside her biological mother. The parents she knows and loves are forced to break the news to her that she’s adopted and she is understandably distraught. She wants to know who she really is, where she came from and why her real mother did what she did. Luckily, some of her friends, including hunky Jason (Jason Burkey) and his girlfriend, are about to head out on a trip to New Orleans to partake in Mardi Gras and a quick pit stop on the way is all that is needed to reunite her with her mother.

Religious movies are not inherently a bad thing. The best, like last year’s Soul Surfer, can tell a meaningful story wrapped around Christian beliefs without slamming its views down viewers’ throats. The worst are self-righteous and condescending to anyone who may not believe what the filmmakers do, like another movie from last year, Seven Days in Utopia. Most, however, are just merely bad, usually replacing offensiveness with schmaltz. October Baby is an odd mix of all three. It has some genuinely effective moments that viewers from all sides of the abortion debate will appreciate before devolving into arrogant religious grandstanding and abortion condemnations. A good example of these mixed reactions comes in a scene where a cop (who hilariously has just let Hannah and Jason off the hook for breaking and entering—a felony in all states—because he hears Hannah’s sob story about being adopted) spouts off some words of supposed wisdom, saying, “Hate the crime, not the criminal.” Its insolent stance on the abortion issue is absurd (besides, abortion is not a crime), but at the same time, it’s not promoting hatred like many religious institutions do. It’s not telling viewers to look down on those who decide to receive the operation. Later on, when Hannah finds her birth mother, the movie treats the situation with respect, never demonizing the woman, despite her evasiveness and standoffishness. As far as the movie is concerned, she is simply a human who had to make a difficult choice.

Still, the movie is decidedly pro-life, even if it thinks it’s being fair to all sides. Before reaching her mother, Hannah runs into an old nurse who used to work at the abortion clinic. She quickly begins to recount her days there and the awful things she saw. At this point, the film hastily throws in the idea that Hannah actually had a twin brother, who died soon after birth due to complications from the failed abortion. It begins to pack the imagery of the issue to the ceiling and pulls out every card it has in its deck to get the viewer to feel a certain way. While it’s true that the end results of an abortion aren’t pretty, it’s unfair to simplify the event in such a way. The abortion debate is not as simple as “it’s killing a baby” or “it’s a woman’s right to choose.” There’s much more to it than that, a notion captured fairest by the wonderful documentary Lake of Fire, which has more to say both for and against abortion than October Baby does in its one-sided approach.

October Baby’s biggest flaw, however, isn’t in its shortsighted view on such a serious issue, but rather that the movie just isn’t very good. The characters are hardly interesting and don’t behave like real people. These college kids (who, if you’ll remember, are heading off to Mardi Gras, which is practically a celebration of sin) are the most virtuous creatures on the planet. They don’t curse, they don’t drink, they don’t smoke and they don’t do anything even remotely sexual. When they stop off at a hotel for the night on their way south, the boys bunk together and the girls do the same. Even Jason and his girlfriend stay apart for the night. The film caters to a certain demographic that still holds onto the archaic idea that teenagers aren’t having sex and it plays far too safe because of it.

October Baby is also tonally inconsistent, with brief, random moments of forced humor popping up in between scenes of deep melodramatics, and the inspirational pop soundtrack is just awful, detailing exactly what is happening at that moment in the film, just in case some viewers find the already simplistic and overly straight forward narrative too confusing, but it’s not the worst movie in the world. Rachel Hendrix is actually pretty solid as the lead. She’s convincingly mopey and cries real well. There are even a few somewhat amusing jokes (despite their misplacements), like when a character played by past American Idol contestant Chris Sligh makes a crack about reality TV shows being fixed. Overall, though, October Baby just doesn’t work on any level, neither as an emotionally driven narrative nor a piece of pro-life propaganda. The already converted will surely find it to be a powerful piece of work, but everyone else will roll their eyes at its absurd silliness and over-the-top sentimentality.

October Baby receives 2/5

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