There's a Little Something For Everyone "Where Hope Grows" Review

Calvin Campbell (Kristoffer Polaha) was a big baseball talent in his small Kentucky town growing up, but when he got his big break playing for the Detroit Tigers, he blew it. Now he floats around his hometown like a bourbon-soaked ghost, spending too much time drinking with his old buddies and not enough time being a father to his teenage daughter, who has gotten herself mixed up with an older bad boy. However, when Calvin meets a cheerful and inspirational young man with Down Syndrome called Produce (David DeSanctis), he is inspired to put down the bottle and get his life back on track. However, because this film is more than twenty minutes long, one knows it won’t be easy.

The DVD cover art for Where Hope Grows bears glowing praise and stamps of approval from the National Coalition of Ministries to Men and the Dove Foundation; films that set out to be this brand of inspirational are generally rather predictable, and this one is no different. However, that doesn’t make it totally unenjoyable--in fact, my cold, cynical heart was warmed by Where Hope Grows far more than I expected. It helped that Calvin is a properly complex character, always a decent man with flaws as opposed to an outright bad guy in need of total redemption. This is best exemplified by Calvin’s attitude towards Produce; even at the beginning of the film, when it could have been easy to make him mean and prejudiced in order to maximize his character arc, Calvin never treats Produce with anything less than understanding and compassion. Because of this, it is easy to find yourself rooting for Calvin to get everything together. It also helps that DeSanctis is excellent as Produce, whose naturally sunny disposition persists despite his disability--though, it does cloud over somewhat when he is repeatedly passed over for named Employee of the Month at the grocery store where he works. Produce occasionally veers too close to being an outright angel, but DeSanctis gives him a human heart and enough layers to make him more than just an empty vehicle for for another character’s journey.

The relationship between Calvin and Produce is inspirational on its own, so when Jesus also shows up in the latter half of the film to help Calvin get his life together, the Son of God generally feels like a third wheel. Turns out, Produce is an avid churchgoer, as is Amy (Brooke Burns), the hot blond that Calvin meets at the grocery store where Produce works. One feels as though one is getting hit over the head with a Bible, so unsubtle is the film’s insistence that Jesus can inspire anyone to be better. I’m not saying that religion has not helped many people sort their lives out, or that there is anything wrong with that, but the religious aspects of Where Hope Grows take away from the relationship that is the true heart of the story. Also disappointing is the film’s ending, which is melodramatic to the point of goofiness, and uses character death in a bizarre way by forcing the audience to essentially root for one character to have died as opposed to another. However, for providing an antidote to the occasionally overwhelming cynicism of Hollywood, and for treating individuals with special needs with the appropriate respect (including Calvin angrily telling one of his friends to stop calling Produce a retard, because “we don’t use that word”), Where Hope Grows does deserve some praise. The faith-based crowd will love it, and others may find reasons to enjoy it too.

Blu-ray Bonus Features

The Blu-ray release of Where Hope Grows includes a digital download of the film, as well as audio commentary with writer-director Chris Dowling and DeSanctis, featurettes about the casting of DeSanctis and the importance of no longer using the R-word, and some deleted scenes.

"Where Hope Grows" is on sale August 25, 2015 and is rated PG13. christian, Drama. Written and directed by Chris Dowling. Starring Brooke Burns, David Desanctis, Kristoffer Polaha.

Sep
22
2015
Lee Jutton • Staff Writer

Lee attended NYU for Film & TV Production, but she now works mostly in PR. Her primary obsessions in life are Doctor Who, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Arsenal F.C. When not writing about things she's watched, she's running or kickboxing in preparation for the inevitable zombie apocalypse. 

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