October 2, 1998, AMC Theatres at First Colony in Sugar Land. Theatre # 23; very small and intimate. Simon Birch (Ian Michael Smith) is a twelve year old boy that was abnormally small (under three feet) since birth. His parents were embarrassed of him and provided little emotional support. But Simon was blessed with his dear friend Joe Wentworth (Joseph Mazzello) who was very normal, cute, athletic, and had a loving mother (Ashley Judd) that treated Simon as a son. Joe and Simon had a lot in common though: Simon had no parental support and Joe had no father; the kids called Simon names like "Little Munchin" and Joe "the little Bastard". Joe and Simon were buds in a small town that was big on gossip and judging their neighbors. They played baseball, swam, and Joe rode his bike with a side cart that fit Simon perfectly.
They attended the local New England church together, too. The Sunday School teacher was superbly portrayed by Jan Hooks whose specialty was shame. And the Rev. Russell was at a loss to answer Simon's many questions: "Does God have a plan for each us?....I think he has plan for me and I think he has a special purpose for me..." Simon has a deep faith in God. Joe is not so sure.
This is a "tug at your heart" film and it makes no apology. The story begins with Joe as an adult in the cemetery with the church in the background looking down on the grave of "Simon Birch 1952-1964" so I was feeling sad even before the opening narration by adult Joe (Jim Carrey - yes that Jim Carrey) told us that "Simon Birch taught me more about God than...." Whoa, we're not even finished with the opening credits and we know death and loving friendship is the backbone of the story. The bond between these two twelve year olds, the love of a mother, a fatherless boy , a misunderstood boy, misguided Christians, a loving God, romance. Joe's mother dies an accidental and tragic death and takes the secret of the identity of Joe's real father with her. Not knowing the identity of his real father and his perceived need to know is one of the compelling themes of the movie.
Simon represents the good in people and the qualities that we strive for: love, understanding, intelligence, forgiveness, loyalty, mischievous, unbending beliefs, strength of conviction, fun loving, appreciative. He also likes to go under water while swimming and test his little body's ability to hold air while he counts "... one Mississippi, two Mississippi...etc " and seems to increase his ability to stay under water longer and longer. Simon gets frustrated when Joe does not share his enthusiasm about holding his breath. Joe tells Simon "..that nobody cares how long you can hold your breath..." but Simon keeps pushing the issue because "...who knows why..." Simon loved baseball, Roger Maris, airplanes, and Joe. This story captures love on many levels. One of the "loving" characters was Ms. Wentworth's last boyfriend Ben played by Oliver Platt who is fast becoming one of the great character actors of the 90's. Ben is the adult that the two boys trust.
The relationship between Simon and Joe should be required viewing for anyone that has trouble expressing love or understanding God. I made a mistake today. I did not take my twelve year old son with me to see "Simon Birch". I will correct that mistake this weekend. I added four points to this grade based on the last twenty minutes of the movie. Rock 'n Roll.