Movie Review

Simon Birch

MPAA Rating: PG for language, emotional thematic elements, and an accident scene

Reviewed by: Jason Murphy
CONTRIBUTOR

Average
Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens Adults
Genre:
Drama
Length:
113 min.
PG

Starring: Ian Michael Smith, Joseph Mazzello, Ashley Judd, Oliver Platt, David Strathairn / Director: Mark Steven Johnson

—Another View—
…Unequivocally, “Simon Birch” is the best film I have seen in the last two years. Simple, heartfelt, fantastic without losing its reality. “Simon Birch” took me from laughter to tears and made me examine my own faith in the same breath. Both lead characters are unequalled as they display a great depth of emotion and sincerity that should be the envy of many more experienced actors. An oscar caliber film through and through.

This is a wonderful film and the lead character is an incredibly wise, Christian boy who loves God and whose faith lets him see past his own physical limitations. He is truly inspiring! However, don’t expect a rose-colored-glasses presentation of Christians or the church. The pastor is a man of meager faith with a troubled past; the Sunday-school teacher is the type who gives Christians a bad name; and Simon deals with the temptations of a pre-teen boy and sometimes fails. This film contains some profanity and some sexual references (however no nudity and the discussions are far from vulgar). Someone may be offended at the negative light shed on these two Christian leaders; however, being a Christian leader, I have seen both of these people in the church.

All said, a tremendous film. I could not recommend it more highly. I would have perhaps liked to see a PG-13 rating on it due to the frequent boyish sexual jokes but otherwise a fabulous choice for viewing and a video I will add to my library.
—Dave Rettig

“Simon Birch” is loosely based on the novel “A Prayer for Owen Meany” and is a story about a young boy who was born with a disease that stunted his growth, and almost ended his life before it had begun. As a result of his survival, Simon Birch believes that God has a plan for his life, and that God is going to make him a hero, and clings to that belief with the unwavering faith of a child.

I must admit, I was thrilled when I first heard about this film. It is very rare that a good, thoughtful film comes out about faith, and I had high hopes for this film. Unfortunately, this movie disappointed me simply because it had the potential to be so much more than it was.

Which is not to say “Simon Birch” is a terrible film. Overall, it’s not too bad. The cinematography is beautiful, and the film uses music with occasional flashes of brilliance, though sometimes too intrusively. The acting is wonderful, especially Ian Michael Smith, as Simon. The movie is sometimes very funny, sometimes times heart wrenching.

The film follows Simon’s life, as told by his best friend, Joe Wentworth, another boy who is also somewhat of an outcast: he is an illegitimate child, without a clue as to who his father is. As both of them search for the answers in their life, their story unfolds.

While all this has the potential of a great moving film, I felt that the movie was held back by the screenplay in several points. First, I felt that there was too much unwarranted profanity from the children. While the kids were not nearly as bad as “South Park,” for example, I felt that the all too frequent swear words and crude language detracted greatly from the film’s overall tone. Second, the screenplay seemed somewhat heavy-handed and manipulative at times. Third, I felt the ending was not well developed enough. All of these hurt the film significantly.

However, to those who enjoy dramas, and those will not be overly offended by the profanity, I’d recommend (though not wholeheartedly) “Simon Birch”. While not a great film, and definitely not for small kids, it is still a somewhat thought-provoking and moving drama.

Year of Release—1998

Viewer Comments
After seeing Simon Burch and then reading the reviews of adults on the Chrsitian Spotlight, I am persuaded to write a review of this movie. Go see it. The movie is delightful, the story meaningful and the themes encouraging. I’ve read some of the reviews which trod on SB because of language which is too strong at times, and a discussion of Christianity which isn’t happy and feel-good. Well, guess what folks, this is how the world views Christianity. And we could do very well to learn from this movie. As to the language, please realize that this is how kids talk—not that it makes it right, but it does depict the truth. And as to the Christianity handling, viewers could do well to learn from this all-too-true depiction of the church and as one other reviewer said, “Pharisaical” adults. I, for one, was convicted and encouraged by the endless faith of a twelve-year-old boy in the face of lies and wishy-washy Christianity as portrayed by the church. Sure this is how we would like the church not to be, but all too often it is just like this. Too critical and not understanding. Too practical and not faithful. A beautiful depiction of life today and with a wonderful inclusion of faith, power and the determination of a boy convinced that God has a purpose for all things. Like this movie. Finally a movie that may teach the world what God really has for them.
—Brett Wiley, age 23
Was Simon Birch really a Christian movie? I believe Simon Birch is another movie in a long string that proclaims God, but not Christ. It was a good movie from an emotional standpoint. You wanted Simon’s beliefs to come true. You love it when he stands up in church and asks a question. You love his commitment to “faith”. You laugh at the little jokes here and there. But once again, a film portrays supposed Christians as mean and hypocritical. Simon’s faith didn’t include Christ’s sacrifice. It was just a faith that God would make him a hero. Just like in the movie Contact, a faith in God is portrayed apart from Christ. I would rather see a good clean movie that doesn’t approach the subject of God, than to see one that confuses and clouds the Christian faith.
—Jason, age 25
“Be strangely different”
First I must say that both my friend (15) and myself were disapointed with this movie’s quality. The movie really didn’t seem to go anywhere! Sure Simon was a kid in a really tough situation, but his character was suposably a “Christian” and I am very sorry to say that if Christians behave like Simon did we would all be of absolutly no use to God. Simon swears, uses crude langage, and does very UnChristian like things. My opinion when I saw this movie was that as a girl I was extreamly offended by the things the two boys said and did! The Bible says for Christians to be set apart and to be strangely different. I don’t think he meant for us to be different by being like the Sunday school teacher or pastor in this movie. The Sunday School teacher was a very upity, rude and overall, a cruel person (not at all like the teachers I’ve ever known!) The pastor had twisted ideas and, as you find out in the end he fathered a child to an unmarried woman! Simon belives that God has a plan for him and that God made him the way he was for a reason. This was the only redeeming factor that I could come up with. Saying this movie has mild “little boy humor” and a few uses of bad langage is a definite understatement! Every time you turn around Simon is leering at a girl or makeing rude comments! I would NOT recommend this movie to any of my friends and would highly discourage any of them from seeing it. Think, do we really need to be confusing our minds with the trashy outlook the world has on Christians? Or do we need to take a stand and say “We are different and plan to stay that way?”
—Katrina, age 16
“Terrific teaching tool!”
I teach young teens in SS and Youth Group. After previewing the movie, I took my teens to see it, warning their parents of the “boy humor” and offensive language. I reviewed it this Sunday, emphasizing that without knowing it, Simon had been preparing for years to be a hero one day (one Mississippi, etc.). My emphasis this fall is on choosing a book of the Bible and reading it through and my kids caught on to the fact quickly that that could be preparing them to be a Hero for Christ by leading someone to his saving grace. I’m also using it to reinforce the Christian doctrine of loving unequivocally; the children couldn’t help their phsycial defects or details of their birth. Terrific teaching tool!
—Bonne, age 57
My husband and I saw Simon Birch, and thought it was a sweet story. I have told several friends not to take their young teenagers, since I thought the adolescent preoccupation with the female anatomy was totally inappropriate in a movie rated PG. I was terribly disappointed that Simon had more faith than either the priest or Sunday school teacher did. They were very Pharisiacal, and understood the do’s and don’ts of religion, without understanding mercy. Overall, we enjoyed the movie, but DON’T take your teenagers if you don’t want them to see 12 year olds groping the female anatomy.
—Pat, age 40
recommended, with caution
While I thoroughly enjoyed the story line of this movie, I came very close to walking out of the theater several times—each time the Lord’s name was used in vain. I am recommending this movie to my Christian friends, but with the warning that there is some offensive language, and with the suggestion that they write to the studios and express their opinions about it. When was the last time you thought a movie would’ve been better with more profanity? True Christians should write to the studios who produce movies like this and, with love, offer the idea that they will never lose money or audiences by eliminating offensive language. And remind them what the Third Commandment says:

“Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy GOD in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh His name in vain” (Exodus 20:7, KJV).

Yes, God certainly does have a plan for each of our lives, but profaning His name, no matter how seemingly harmless the context in which it’s done, is not part of that plan.
—Fred, age 38
don’t be duped
Cute kids, without a doubt. And I’m glad that the film included talk of God and depictions of religion, that’s always a plus and a dimension most movies never approach. Not to mention, what Simon says in church is something I think churches desperately need to hear. That said, I found the movie third-rate, and it would have been utterly unwatchable without its (mostly) stellar cast. Everything about this movie is calculated, from the twinkly Forrest Gumpy piano music to the countless reaction closeups. But that just makes it bad art. What disturbs me about this movie, and many movies, is that people—and in this case, Christians—are so easily suckered by it. Movies like “Simon Birch,” and “Titanic”, to more complicated effect, engage our emotions at the expense of our minds. As the above comments about this movie show, we’re just happy our feathers weren’t ruffled and that we had a good cry, so that we feel our $7.00 was well-spent. Never mind being challenged to think in a new way, that’s not what we want from the movies—we want to be affirmed, to be told that everything is going to be ok.

“Simon Birch,” unlike John Irving’s thoughtful novel A Prayer For Owen Meany, by which the film was “suggested,” baldly misappropriates Christianity for its own ambitions, which are mostly to make its audience alternately chuckle and cry. The religious elements in the movie are fuzzy at best, and in these hazy reflections on true faith and purpose, we the audience are allowed to continue in our meandering spiritual ways, adopting and adapting our “faith” as we see fit. For an unequivocal, no-bones-about-it illustration of the gospel, see this year’s version of “Les Miserables” instead.
—Andrew Campbell
Nice review, Jason. I agree, SB left quite a bit to be desired in terms of writing. Though it was insightful in moments, and endearing (if you like this kind of movie) throughout, it was, as you said, “manipulative.” The sets you up from the opening scene for an emotional rollercoaster, and though it delivers on that promise, it never earns the type of emotional response it expects from the viewer. The best movies have thematic content that is motivated by the characters; Simon Birch inverts that rule and forces its thematic content rudely onto its characters. Too bad.
—Patton, age 23
Me and my husband were disappointed in this movie. I had saw Regis and Kathy Lee show and she had raved about it so I was really expecting to enjoy this movie. What I did not like about it is I feel they put more emphasis on profanity which they made to appear as boyish cute normal profanity, than on the central theme of the movie which was how God has a plan for all of us. I just feel they copped out by doing that—the theme was beautiful and one that needs to be heard, but I felt it was instead made as an undertone to the movie. I was much more pleased by the movie “The Apostle” because at least that movie did not portray Christians as uncaring and unknowledgeable of God’s word. I agree totally by the spotlight review—I think it could have been such a better movie than it was.
—Karen W.
My wife and I liked Simon Birch and she (my wife) cried through most of the film while I choked backed tears. I of course couldn’t cry because I am, after all, a man. All kidding aside, while I liked this film, I thought it unfortunate that it still had a negative and sour view of organized religion. It just seems Hollywood cannot allow itself to make a film about Christianity without the backhanded compliments at best or out-right slanderous portrayels of Christians at worst. Good film, could have been so much more.
—Joseph W.
After watching the commercials on television for a week, I decided to see Simon Birch. I convinced a friend of mine who was not quite as enthusiastic as I was to see it with me. We both were delighted. This film has everything a film should have. It shows faith, true friendship and makes us ask ourselves our reason for being on this earth. Ian Michael Smith did a wonderful job portraying Simon. I recently saw him on Regis and Kathie Lee and he was a joy to watch. He spoke very openly about his Morquios Syndrome without hesitation and was as adorable as any 11 year old would be. I have recommended this film to many of my friends. It was better than Titanic. I plan on seeing it again and when it comes out on video I plan to add it to my collection. If there were more films like this, children would get a better perspective on life in general and would learn that because someone is a little different doesn’t mean they should be discounted. Cheers for Simon Birch.
—Rosina
This was by far one of the best movies I have seen in a long time. I think Simon is a good example for all of us to keep the faith that God has a plan for every one of our lives! I think that this movie was a very good example of what it is to be a true Christian in this world. We are often misunderstood and mocked by people who don’t understand why we believe. I should have taken kleenex because I must have cried a river!!! This was a wonderful movie that I will recommend to all of my friends and will definitely see again!
—Stephanie, age 25
I don’t know about you, but Simon Birch was one of my favorite movies in a long time. I have never cried this much in a movie and I’m only 13 (and I’m a boy)! I’m a Christian, and I could see a lot of the things in the movie were Christian. Now, Yes, I can admit that there was some language, and juvenile, little boy humor, but it was a fabulous movie. I give it 2 thumbs up… Hey! that’s all that I have! I highly recomend it! I loved Simon. You see, I’m a sensitive kid, this movie realy touched me! Got to go, I’m probably going to see it again!
—Lee Nelson, age 13
First of all, a little about me… I am a 28 year old female who has been a Christian all her life. I am a regular movie-goer and I have to say this movie, “Simon Birch,” has been my favorite movie in quite a LONG time. There is just so much vulgar language, sexual scenes, violence, etc. in *so* many movies these days… this movie was quite a refreshing experience! I would highly recommend it!!! It will bring both laughter and tears, so grab your best friend and some kleenex and go see this one!! Simon will win your heart!
—Andrea, age 28
I wholeheartedly agree with the review by Dave Rettig! The character of Simon Birch could be me. Like Simon, I believe that God has a plan for my life and I was created to be something special. Like Simon, I’ve had to face doubts. Like Simon, I have a best friend who accepts me as I am. Simon Birch shows that Christians are salt and light in the world, even through their flaws and even when we do not actively evangelize. Finally, Simon Birch shows that God loves everyone and does not make mistakes. The children that we would abort because of medical difficulties are ones that God loves as much as He loves us.
—Debbie, age 40