Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Movie Review: Where Hope Grows

Before going to see Where Hope Grows, I knew only two things about it:
  1. One of the main characters has Down Syndrome and is played by an actor with Down Syndrome, David DeSanctis.
  2. DeSanctis promoted the film at January's Students for Life of America conference. I didn't get to hear him, though, because I was manning the Secular Pro-Life table.
So I went in with few preconceptions. As it turns out, Where Hope Grows is not explicitly a pro-life film; abortion is never mentioned, even obliquely. It is, however, a strongly pro-disability-rights film, and I have always considered disability rights to be a sister movement. We also learn that another character conceived his daughter while in high school.

Where Hope Grows is, as the title might imply, a heartwarming film. I always worry that films which try to be heartwarming will veer into cheesiness. I'm happy to say that Where Hope Grows managed to stay on the non-cheesy side of the line. 

DeSanctis turned in an excellent performance. His character displays the cheerful nature typical of people with Down Syndrome, but there's more depth than that. He also has a strong sense of justice and is a fundamentally courageous person. In one of my favorite scenes, he takes a drunk friend's car keys and refuses to back down. 

My biggest beef is that we never learn his name. DeSanctis' character works in the produce department of a grocery store and wears a "Produce" tag on his apron, so it makes sense that people would call him Produce—at first. But even as he befriends the other principal characters and is in countless scenes outside the grocery store, everyone continues to call him Produce. I kept waiting for the big scene in which someone, in recognition of his humanity, asked him for his real name. It never came. Still, overall, the film's treatment of Down Syndrome is excellent.

Where Hope Grows is rated PG-13, despite a lack of profanity and graphic violence, because it deals extensively with alcoholism.

Religion is a secondary theme in Where Hope Grows, but I didn't feel that it was being shoved down my throat. Produce is a devout Christian and carries a Bible with him wherever he goes; his new friends are non-religious or only nominally Christian. His efforts to get them to go to church flow naturally from his character and add some levity to what would otherwise be pretty dark scenes. It also makes sense that an alcoholic character would begin attending the church where his AA meetings are held. Finally, there is a scene in which several characters pray for someone who is in the hospital and debate whether or not God grants prayers. That's it. I dreaded a proselytizing "come to Jesus" moment, which would have sent the film swerving into the cheesy lane; thankfully, the writer refrained.

Where Hope Grows was released last weekend and is playing in theaters nationwide.

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