Simon Birch Review

Image for Simon Birch


In the opening credits for Mark Steven Johnson's screen debut you'll notice the encouraging line "Suggested by the novel A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving."

Unfortunately, rather than suggest to Johnson that he point his creative muse in an original direction, Owen Meany has simply prompted him to extract the bare thread of the story and soak it in several gallons of unrefined, industrial-strength schmaltz. Simon Birch (Smith) - a moniker evidently "suggested" by the name Owen Meany - is a tiny boy who refuses to allow his lack of stature to divert him from the belief that, one day, God will make him a hero. Weathering the derision of the local yokels and the patronizing attentions of his classmates, he is befriended by the town bastard Joe (Mazello), whose mother (Judd) is also shunned by the community for refusing to identify the father of her child.

But he's a spunky little feller. Sparring with his uptight Sunday school teacher and driving the parish priest to distraction, he delivers beyond-his-years bons mots from a Coke-crate sidecar attached to Joe's bike. When tragedy strikes, a sequence of events is set in motion that culminates in the unmasking of Joe's pa and the fulfilment of Simon's heroic destiny (sob).

In the title role, newcomer Smith shows vestiges of an intuitive and moving performance, but he's swamped by a veritable tsunami of sentimentality and hamstrung by cute dialogue. Everyone else, frankly, eats it raw. Basically, this is impeccable source material reduced to a mere two-hour episode of The Waltons, complete with hokey voice-over from Jim Carrey (sample: "Baseball is a little like life when you're 12 years old"). A crudely manipulative, amber-hued cocktail of saccharine and horseshit.