The Neon Bible Review

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While on a train, a teenage boy thinks about his life and the flamboyant aunt whose friendship acted as an emotional shield from his troubled family.


After a series of intensely personal and quintessentially British biopics, Terence Davies turns his hand (both behind the camera and at the screenplay) to the story of six formative years in the life of David, a boy in 1940s Bible Belt America. A story based on the remarkable first novel of the same name by the then 16-year-old John Kennedy Toole, who went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction with the humorous A Confederacy Of Dunces before committing suicide.
This is a film of few smiles. David, aged ten (Drake Bell) watches, at turns fascinated and frightened, as his father (Leary) loses his job, quarrels with his mother (Scarwid) and resents the intrusion into their poor household of the flamboyant would-be nightclub singer, Aunt Mae (Rowlands). Bell is then replaced as a 16-year-old by Jacob Tierney who does much the same while visiting Christian rallies and wrestling with the options of becoming either the man his aunt and mother are making him, or the man his father’s example demands. When Leary — who fails to make any real impression either on David or the film — comes home from World War II in a box, his mother goes slowly and painfully insane, and the choice is made for David.
Beautifully shot and painstakingly painted, David’s childish perspective nevertheless has the story unfold at the same snail’s pace of Davies’ overused camera pans. And while such lethargy may be typical of the book and the setting, it merely serves to make Rowlands’ proud and sometimes brazen Aunt Mae so much more sparkling than the film itself. The surprisingly unpleasant ending is a bang that can’t wipe away the memory of a persistent wimper.

Painstakingly shot, but emotionally fallow.