Sunday, May 1, 2011

Movie with Abe: That’s What I Am

That’s What I Am
Directed by Michael Pavone
Released April 29, 2011

Taking a trip back in time is always an opportunity for a grand adventure. This particular trip back to the 1960s doesn’t involve any drugs or all that much violence. Instead, it’s a lesson in morality and humanity taught by a popular teacher far ahead of his time who desires to show his students that, through understanding and compassion, they can live fulfilling lives.

“That’s What I Am” is the latest film from WWE Studios, which produces movies starring wrestlers. Fortunately, this film is infinitely better than last year’s disaster “Knucklehead,” for several important reasons. For one, it relegates its token wrestler star, Randy Orton, to a small role that demands little more than toughness and roughness, as the bigoted father of a troublesome middle school student. This film also tells two intersecting stories, one of a young boy learning to accept the differences of those around him, and the other of a kindly teacher taking a moral stance after ignorant accusations spread around the school and threaten to tarnish his reputation.

Like “Knucklehead,” however, there is a bizarre blend of child-oriented comedy and playfulness, which gets stopped dead in its tracks when Andy (Chase Ellison) hears another student calling Mr. Simon (Ed Harris) a “homo.” The movie quickly reassumes its less serious tone and switches back and forth throughout, making for a somewhat disjointed experience. There are glimmers of brilliance in the colorful voiceover narration provided by an adult Andy, but the story can’t escape its ultimate simplicity. Mr. Simon’s blatant efforts to get Andy to realize that he needs to be more accepting of everyone by partnering him with token nerd Big G (Alexander Walters) coupled with conversations about how there’s nothing wrong with homosexuality gives the film an almost suffocating preachy air.

As a children’s film, “That’s What I Am” isn’t terrible. It’s rated PG, taking into account thematic material, language, and bullying, something which runs rampant through the film. The performers, at least those in leading parts, are in decent form, and it’s particularly refreshing to see a rising talent in young actress Mia Rose Frampton, who plays Mary Clear, Andy’s crush. Ed Harris gives an effortless performance that’s still better than most, and supporting players like Amy Madigan, Daniel Roebuck (Artz from “Lost”), Molly Parker (“Swingtown”), and even Orton are fine in their throwaway roles as educators and parents. This is hardly a movie that demands to be seen, but it’s considerably better than it could have been, and far better than the kind of films this studio has produced in the past.


No comments: