It’s ironic that the studio founded by the son of Hollywood founding father Samuel Goldwyn should be the one releasing “October Baby.” Apparently, the acquisitions department never took to heart Goldwyn the elder’s most famous Goldwynism about what movies are supposed to do:
“Pictures were made to entertain. If you want to send a message, call Western Union.”
“October Baby” is earnest, sober and serious, a faith-based film that clothes itself in more subtle faith-friendly garb. It’s about abortion, and the payoff moment is when a former nurse (Jasmine Guy) goes into graphic detail about what happened in a botched Alabama abortion years before.
But the filmmakers don’t fret over how long they take to get to that sermonette, how dull their movie is up to that point, how banal the characters and dialogue and how inept other details (e.g. geography) come off. “October Baby” is all about the message.
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Rachel Hendrix is Hannah, a gorgeous college freshman actress who has had lingering health issues — asthma, hip surgeries, seizures. When one of those maladies causes her to collapse onstage (mercifully, considering how bad the play written for her to star in is), the origin of those problems is revealed.
Hannah was a baby who survived a botched late-term abortion. She was adopted by a doctor (John Schneider) and his wife (Jennifer Price) who never told her the truth. Her doctor even seems to suggest that her psychological problems (not really evident) stem from her memories of that event.
Now, she’s got her birth certificate and a convenient collection of college pals who are headed to New Orleans for spring break. Hannah was born in Mobile, Ala. Her too-helpful never-quite-boyfriend (Jason Burkey) offers to bring her along and make a stop there. With Hannah pleading “My whole life is a lie,” how could he not?
The road picture element (college kids packed in an ancient VW Microbus) has a couple of moments of life and a couple of characters have comic potential. And college kids, going to New Orleans? That’s a party, right? Not this bunch.
The camera lingers on the lovely face of Hendrix, who resembles Annabeth Gish during her “Mystic Pizza” days. Hendrix has a little chemistry with Burkey. But the blase movie around them has more to do with the screenplay than any of the constrained performances here.
Static, talky scenes just sit there, waiting for something to happen. There’s no urgency to it. Characters tell us things rather than show us. And they confront one another with imaginary grievances added to create “drama.” (“You LIED to me.” No, he or she did nothing of the sort.)
Filmmakers Jon and Andrew Erwin, faith-film vets, are more interested in back-door references to faith than advancing the plot. “They were praying people, I remember.” A sympathetic cop paraphrases Baptist dogma — “Hate the crime, not the criminal.”
Timed to come out in the middle of a political dogfight over birth control, when candidates tell their supporters that they’ll “get rid of Planned Parenthood,” “October Baby” could have hot-button appeal for a certain audience.
But the Erwins didn’t wrap their message in anything particularly moving, and certainly nothing entertaining. And even faith-based filmmakers should know that you violate the Gospel of Samuel Goldwyn at your own peril.