“Return to Me”

Film reviews are not a specialty of mine, but when I come across movies that are edifying to my faith, or at least reasonably respectful towards it, I like to share.

When devout Catholics search for movies to stream, for the most part the best they can hope for is something reasonably good while being reasonably clean. After filtering out smutty movies and bad movies, you’ve narrowed down your range of choices quite a bit.

We came across this movie, saw that it was rated PG and had a decent Rotten Tomatoes rating, and decided to give it a shot. What a pleasant surprise.

It was made in 2000 and has David Duchovny and Minnie Driver in the leading roles. Also of note are Carroll O’Connor and Jim Belushi.

When it opens the heroine, Grace (Driver), is in the hospital awaiting a donor for a heart transplant she needs to stay alive. Eventually she gets a donor and goes into surgery. Her grandfather, played by O’Connor with a very good Irish accent, accompanies her as she is being wheeled down the hall. As they part she implores him, “Grandpa, pray! Pray, OK?”

And Grandpa prays, boy does he pray! He stays up all night in the hospital’s Catholic chapel, lighting candles, praying the rosary, interceding for his granddaughter in any way he can think of. The surprise was not only the prayerfulness of the scene, but Carroll O’Connor — Archie Bunker! — of all people playing the part.

Grandpa is the owner of an Italian restaurant called O’Reilly’s Italian Restaurant. The restaurant features live Italian musicians playing such Italian favorites as “Danny Boy” and “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”. You surmise that he opened an Italian restaurant rather than an Irish one, because one of his best friends is “one of the best Italian cooks in Chicago.” There is a regular poker game after hours in the restaurant, accompanied by wine, beer and cigars, with O’Connor, the Italian cook, one other Italian guy and a Pole. In other words a strong undercurrent of cultural Catholicism.

Other Catholic-friendly aspects to the movie were, first, the family of Grace’s best friend Megan, the wife of Joe, played to perfection by Jim Belushi as a paramedic and all-around decent, Chicago-type regular guy, who at one point offers to beat the snot out of someone who he thinks has played the cad towards Grace. The Catholic-friendly part is that they have five kids, and so evidently are not using a whole lot of birth control, yet are very happily married in a down-to-earth way.

And finally, by the time of the climactic romantic moment between Grace and her love-interest (Duchovny — I’m leaving out any further description of him so as not to spoil the plot), he professes his love and permanent devotion to her, despite her having had heart surgery with a big ugly scar running down the middle of her chest — and without their ever having gone to bed together. At one point his friend teases him about not having slept with her: “She’s playing you, man, she’s one of those types who doesn’t want to play around, she just wants to reel you in!” (or something to that effect). To which he replies, “Yeah, well, you know what? It’s working!”

Right up to the end I found the whole movie very well done. There’s a lot of lighthearted humor, and it handles heart-wrenching sorrows in a way that is realistic, yet without leaving you feeling depressed. The romantic, climactic ending I thought was a bit overwrought, a little too Hallmark-y. But it was easily forgiveable in the light of all the film’s merits.

2 thoughts on ““Return to Me”

  1. Finding decent movies is exceedingly difficult on this side of the Tiber River as well. There is a whole industry built around making movies for Evangelical Christians (Evangelical having become an almost totally useless term at this point) but the vast majority of those movies are so bad they are funny. Most of them are nothing more than ham-fisted morality tales. They are almost always poorly written, poorly acted, and as artfully subtle as a stadium crusade. They are basically ninety minute screen versions of the worst gospel tracts you have ever read.

    True Story:

    We were on vacation with my father-in-law and a bunch of my wife’s family and my father-in-law and mother-in-law decided that we should all watch “Fire Proof”, starring Kirk Cameron. I had seen the movie and I knew it was dumb, but I was willing to just go with it. My brother-in-law, who is not particularly fond of Christianity, was rather nonplussed about the whole situation. He and I were outside chatting. He did not appreciate the clumsy attempt to proselytize on the part of our wives’ dad. He then stated something that has stuck with me ever since (this was more than a decade ago). He said:
    “I already know what’s gonna happen. The movie is gonna start and the characters will have some huge problem, then they’ll ‘find Jesus’ and all their problems will magically disappear. The end. And that’s not how life works.”

    I was rather taken off guard by his keen insight into Evangelical subculture. But he was absolutely right. That’s how all of those movies go, and it isn’t how life works.

    Long story short, when you have both religious and artistic standards, finding a decent movie is tough.

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  2. It is tough. It shouldn’t *be* tough to make good movies with Christian themes. Some of the best stories ever are religious stories (a good movie about the Battle of LePanto is just BEGGING to be made).

    Not to mention “A Man for All Seasons,” which I consider one of the best movies ever.

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