Title: Simon Birch
Play time: 1h 54min
Director: Mark Steven Johnson
Starring: Oliver Platt, Ashley Judd, Joseph Mazzello, Ian Michael Smit
Simon Birch is a shameless tearjerker, a deviously manipulative little film that manages to be enjoyable. It features some great performances, but it is many times hard to swallow.
Simon Birch Film Summary
Ian Michael Smith plays 12 year old Simon Birch, a child with a birth defect — he was born abnormally small. He lives in a tiny little town where almost no one likes him, except for Joe (Joseph Mazzello), a bastard kid (for lack of a better word). They become the best of friends, sometimes with a relationship resembling that of Ethel Mertz and Lucy Ricardo. Joe comes up with a hairbrained scheme and Simon has no choice but to help him out. The story really has no center point — the first half of the movie focuses on describing and defining Simon, his place in society and his character. He is a kid that thinks that he is “Good’s instrument” and tells everyone that there is a plan for everyone. The second half centers on Joe, and his obsession with finding his father (after his mother dies when she gets hit by a baseball hit by — who else — Simon).
The Film is an Emotional Roller Coaster
I have a few problems with Simon Birch, the first of which I have already mentioned — it is terribly manipulative. It toys with the audience’s emotions as much as almost any film I have seen.
The film is also too much of an emotional roller coaster; we see, but can’t believe, the characters (along with the movie’s mood) go from sad to happy and back to sad again in a matter of moments. The film tries to juggle comic and poignant elements and fails. One of two things could have been done about it — they could perhaps have gone gloomy and centered on the sadness of the whole situation, or they could have told about how good Simon’s life was while it lasted (they tell us at the beginning that he died at the age of twelve). Unfortunately, director Mark Steven Johnson (making his directing debut; he wrote both Grumpy Old Men films) tries to have it both ways — he has moments of hilarity and joy, but expects us to be sad a split-second later, when noone believes Simon about him being the instrument of Good.
The climactic scene is perfect — moving as well as suspenseful, but everything that comes before it is deeply flawed and the denouement is pathetic — it plays out like a bad soap opera.
Simon Birch is strikingly similar to an excellent 1995 film called The Cure. That film also starred Joseph Mazzello. He played a child with AIDS, who doesn’t have long to live, and who is befriended by a bigger boy, and they set out on a quest to find a cure for HIV. The kid does die at the end. In Simon Birch, Ian Michael Smith plays Simon, a kid who doesn’t have long to live because his heart is too small. He is befriended by Joe, a bigger boy, and they set out on a quest to find Joe’s father. Simon dies at the end. That undercuts the movie, because during many moments I was thinking of The Cure, a superior film.
The Cast Delivers a Stellar Performance in Simon Birch
Still, Simon Birch has its moments, many thanks to Smith and Mazzello, who both give excellent performances. Smith has a flair delivering his dialogue in such a way that we can believe what we are hearing and sympathize with his character. Mazzello is good, even though I didn’t really care about him finding his father.
Simon Birch is a good film when it builds up a rhythm, but it’s too inconsistent and implausible to really recommend. It’s certainly watchable, but there are better alternatives if you want a poignant film (Return to Paradise) or a family movie.