While the topic of abortion has sparked all kinds of debates over the past several decades--usually rooted in political platforms--there seems to have been a strategic dehumanization of the topic by those in favor of the ugly procedure. Filmmakers the Erwin brothers have decided to tell a story that needs to be told about a young girl who had survived an abortion and first learns about it at the age of 19. The dramatic tale was inspired by the real life story of Gianna Jessen who the Erwin brothers heard speak and were moved to have a movie made about it. And thus, October Baby, the movie, was born.
The Erwins have been making music videos and indie films for years now, but nothing to the caliber of October Baby. Enlisting budding talent like Rachel Hendrix to play the movie's lead role, Hannah, was in itself a risky move, but being an indie film, the stakes maybe aren't quite as high. Still, the Erwin brothers prove to have all their ducks in their proverbial row for October Baby and they seem to have paid pretty close attention to the dos and don'ts of making a faith-based drama.
One of the things viewers need to know going into October Baby is that it's first and foremost a drama. The subject matter--about a girl suddenly finding out that she's not only an abortion survivor but that she was adopted--is pretty heavy stuff. The Erwin's do try to lighten up the mood from time to time, but especially the second half of the movie really lays on the emotional elements thickly. At first, Hannah may seem a bit whiny about her life being a lie and her new obsession with finding her birth mom, but the events that follow help peel back some of the layers of that. The biggest catalyst for Hannah sounding a bit whiny, though, may be that the movie opens immediately with the moment she collapses on stage during a play which leads to her birth being explored as the origin of her health issues. We don't really get to know Hannah before she learns of this news. We hear about her struggle with feelings of emptiness and longing for more, but we don't get to know Hannah outside of this life-changing news (and events that unfold just fuel the fire of her "nobody likes me, nobody wants me" attitude towards, well, everything). Thankfully, by the middle of the story, there's been enough soul searching for Hannah, that the viewer is in it for the long haul. It plays out a little like a mystery as Hannah searches for clues to finding her birth mother (and there are some genuine surprises herein too). In the process, she begins to realize what she has taken for granted what really matters most in her life. The whole feel of the loss, obsession, and pursuit of truth feels a lot like last year's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. But while that film was a big Hollywood production with big names attached to it, I have to honestly say that October Baby is a far more enjoyable and impactful journey.
The cinematography is one of the highlights of October Baby. I watched the film in HD on Blu-Ray and I have to say the presentation is impressive. Also, the Erwin's have a good eye for excellent scenic shots and giving the movie a professional look while keeping it indie and artsy as well. However, they do start to overuse the shaky, handheld camerawork at times--sometimes at inopportune moments too--but overall, it works in the movie's favor. The cast is surprisingly strong, as well. Hendrix is great as Hannah, with any week moments more likely being a script problem than anything. Her friend Jason is played by Jason Burkey who plays the role rather endearingly, but some of the cliches that come out of his mouth make his character seem more unrealistic than tangible. Still, he ends up being a pretty good role model for young guys watching. His girlfriend, Alanna, serves as that token nasty girlfriend that really makes no sense as to why Jason would be with her in the first place (a deleted scene actually has her revealing to Hannah that she had an abortion when she was younger and that's why she's mean to Hannah, but it feels way too contrived knowing that now and it was wise for them to have omitted that, leaving her as just the "unpleasant girlfriend" type instead). Two characters serve as nerdy comic relief and work on some level, but neither of them are strong enough actors to feel much more than stereotypical necessary comic relief. Singer/songwriter and American Idol finalist Chris Sligh plays a kind of slacker/hippie with a VW bus and a hideous beard, before shaving it to look exactly like his signature self. He not only gets a scene to sing for his friends, but, bizarrely enough, several of his scenes use Sligh's songs (three in total) in the movie's soundtrack. Knowing it's Sligh singing over his fictional character pulls the viewer out of the story and makes it even more obvious that we're watching a singer acting as a guy who can sing in the movie. And as if that wasn't bad enough, someone comments to Sligh's character that he should "go on one of those reality shows" to which he quips something like, "nah, those things are rigged." It's all intended for humor, and it likely won't be a big deal to most, but it just didn't seem to fit the movie and, ultimately, detracted from it.
October Baby works faith into the movie in a surprisingly natural way. While some movies can be painfully heavy-handed and not the least bit believable (or sincere) in the way it tries to be evangelistic, October Baby is more about how the family grew up with faith than trying to give someone in the film a Damascus Road experience. Because of that, the faith of Hannah and the rest of the Lawsons comes into play in the story, but isn't the driving force for the story. Their faith feels more real and genuine, especially when Hannah is struggling with finding her worth after her world comes tumbling down. Although some voices of inspiration help Hannah on her journey (like a police officer and a priest), they tend to sound more like wisdom-spouting Alfreds from any given Batman film, but they still work to create some of the film's more touching moments (I particulary enjoyed Hannah--a baptist--opening up to the Catholic priest about her questions. It showed just how irrelevant denominational tags are when we're dealing with our big God). The movie isn't really preachy about faith or abortion, but more or less is trying to convey, through Hannah's trials and life struggle, how life is to be cherished. It's refreshing to see how delicately the Erwin's handled the material.
The content for October Baby just barely warrants a PG-13 rating. I've seen much worse PG-rated movies. There is no profanity or significant violence, and there is no crude sexual content. The one scene where Jason and Hannah are forced to share a hotel room due to low funds, Hannah takes the bed while Jason takes the floor. Hannah's clearly uncomfortable with even just the appearance of what it might look like for the two to be sharing a room, and eventually takes the couch in the hotel lobby instead. It's cute and innocent, and it doesn't hurt either that Jason is supportive of Hannah's convictions. Otherwise, the PG-13 rating is probably just earned by the heavy subject matter of the emotional journey Hannah embarks on. There are some arguments and falling-out's, and frank stories about abortions (including the description of Hannah's failed abortion) and such. Again, the movie is a drama first and foremost, so you can expect some serious tear-jerker moments.
When all is said and done, Jon and Andrew Erwin have certainly crafted a heartfelt movie that is one of the better faith-based (or "Christian") films you may see these days. Some of the script may be a bit too cliche at time, but for the most part the performances are good and the cinematography is solid. October Baby is more for drama fans and those who typically enjoy their movies with a box of Kleenex or Puffs at their side, but for those on the fence about the topic of abortion, there's plenty of food for thought when watching a movie like this one. It's a great discussion-starter and one that places a necessary importance on adoption, family, and the value of life.
- John DiBiase (reviewed: 9/20/12)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
The Blu-Ray disc for October Baby presents the film in a wonderful high definition transfer and includes the following bonus features (including a feature-length commentary from Jon and Andrew Erwin):
"Life Is Beautiful" Music Video (4:12) - The official music video for The Afters' new song "Life Is Beautiful," which showcases the band performing and clips of the movie being played is also included. It's worth a watch for anyone who enjoyed the film and/or the song.
October Bloopers (5:00) - This is a collection of line flubs and goofing off on set. One of the funniest moments was during a real shot of Hannah's mother walking into her bedroom and then the camera panning onto a suddenly very aware boom mic operator. The goof-ups also include ad-libbing and the other crew just kind of having fun on set.
Deleted Scenes (15:43) - There is a batch of deleted scenes lumped together, not viewable separately. The first is Truman flirting with Jason's girlfriend Alanna. The next scene is Hannah seeing a therapist, but the doc is awkward and a little weird. It's a strange scene (and I'm glad they cut it). In the third scene, Truman confesses to Jason that he loves Alanna, while the following scene is an extended moment in the library where Truman admits to Hannah that he wants to break up Jason and Alanna. Following that, Hannah talks to her parents about going on the road trip. Next is an extended scene of Jacob trying to get Bmac to tell him his real name. After that is a scene of Hannah and Jason in a diner eating hamburgers, which previously exists only as a snippet in a montage in the finished film. There's then a deleted scene where they encounter a disheveled security guard at the abandoned hospital and Jason bribes him to let them in. I'm not sure how this would have fit into the story, though, given that they snuck in the back and were arrested in the finished film. There's a pivotal scene included here as well, where Alanna confesses that she treated Hannah poorly because she had had an abortion herself at the age of sixteen. It fills in an emotional gap, but it's a bit too heavy-handed and contrived for there to be such a coincidental situation in the plot. The last scene has Bmac trying to talk Alanna into letting him take her out to dinner. When she reluctantly gets into his van, she's disgusted to find Truman in there with him waiting for her.
Finding Hannah (4:46) - Andrew and Jon Erwin talk about how they first discovered Rachel Hendrix (who has even appeared in Michael W. Smith's "How To Say Goodbye" music video) and how they just knew she'd be perfect for this role.
Shari's Story (4:55) - The end credits of the movie touches on this, but this featurette focuses on actress Shari Rigby who played the birth mother of Hannah. Most of the story is retold here, with a lot of the same moments in the end credits, about how Shari really had had an abortion when she was young, and had carried that burden with her. The film experience ended up being very healing for her.
Gianna Jessen: The Inspiration (5:08) - The inspiration for the film is a woman named Gianna Jessen, who is a real-life abortion survivor. She has cerebral palsy and considers it a blessing. The feaurette also talks about how she was recording a song called "Ocean Floor" at the time the movie was being made and the Erwin brothers decided it needed to be used in the film during one of the key scenes.
Singing The Praises of October Baby (3:32) - Michael W. Smith, Francesca Battistelli, Point of Grace, Mark Hall of Casting Crowns, Alex Kendrick (Director of Courageous) and Stephen Kendrick (Producer of Courageous) all reflect on the film and express their love for the work the Erwin brothers did on the movie.
Facebook Q & A With Rachel and Jason (6:24) - This is a great, candid question and answer session between Rachel and Jason where she asks questions that fans submitted via Facebook for him and he asks her questions they submitted for her. It's a fun addition to this set.
Every Life Is Beautiful (14:12) is broken down into seven sections with a "Play All" option. Jon Erwin, Gianna Jessen, Andy Erwin, Mark Hall, Pat Layton, Ken Bevel, Dan Atchison all talk about "Every Life Is Beautiful," a special fund that was started at www.everylifeisbeautiful.com. These were promos made for the website but also do fit here on the blu-ray (especially Gianna's story).
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 9/20/12)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: Hannah says she's never "been" with anyone before, physically speaking. She then self-consciously says she has a "wild side" and says "Have you seen me play Scrabble? I'm wild!" But a moment later, she's uncomfortable with Jason sleeping on their hotel room floor with her being in the bed, so she leaves. They then innocently sleep on the couch in the lobby next to each other
Alcohol/Drugs: Hannah's doctor asks if she drinks, which could agitate her condition and she insists she doesn't do drugs or drink alcohol
Blood/Gore: Bmac has three bloody pieces of paper on his cheek where he apparently cut himself shaving; Truman has a black eye
Violence: Hannah gets dizzy and collapses while on stage during a play; We briefly see Truman in a dorm holding a clothes iron upside down with flames on it; Bmac angrily throws something at this bus (as a joke)
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.