[Screen It]


(2012) (Rachel Hendrix, Jason Burkey) (PG-13)

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Drama: A college freshman sets out to learn about her origins after not only discovering that she was adopted, but also that she was the survivor of a failed abortion.
Hannah Lawson (RACHEL HENDRIX) is a college freshman whose role as lead in a theatrical play goes awry when she collapses on stage. A visit to the doctor reveals a bit of shocking news to her, and that is her physical ailments and maybe even her emotional ones likely stem from the fact that she was a preemie at birth. Even more surprising is that her parents, Jacob (JOHN SCHNEIDER) and Grace (JENNIFER PRICE), adopted her after she survived a failed abortion.

Accordingly, her lifelong friend, Jason Bradley (JASON BURKEY), proposes that she join him, his girlfriend Alanna (COLLEEN TRUSLER) and others, including friend Truman (AUSTIN JOHNSON) and his cousin, B-Mac (CHRIS SLIGH), as they drive to New Orleans for spring break. Jason does so after learning that Hannah was born in Mobile, Alabama, which is on the way.

A bit into the trip, he and Hannah end up on their own looking for the truth about her origin, all of which leads to former abortion clinic worker Mary Rutledge (JASMINE GUY), and finally to Hannah's birth mother, Cindy Hastings (SHARI RIGBY). As all of that unfolds, Hannah must figure out how to process this new information and what it means to her.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
There are any number of hot-button topics that will get people on one or both sides of the aisle riled up, but few have the power to do so as abortion. Performed since who knows when, the procedure was legalized in the U.S. by the Supreme Court back in 1973, but has remained a contentious issue resulting in additional court cases, protests and even murder by some folks who apparently don't recognize the irony of such acts.

Those who support abortion often see its opponents are religious zealots while those who oppose the procedure see those who perform or have them as heartless killers. The truth is that many women who have the procedure -- whether they believe in its legality or simply feel they have no other recourse at the time -- end up emotionally devastated to one degree or another.

The film "October Baby" features a little bit of that -- near the conclusion of its 100-some minute runtime -- but focuses more on the questionable and certainly controversial proposal that its protagonist's emotional issues are the result of her being the survivor of a botched abortion and resultant premature birth 19 years earlier.

I can buy into her physical issues -- asthma, epilepsy and such -- stemming from her being a preemie, but the self doubts, low self-esteem and feeling alone in the world? That, my friends, is known as the teenage mind and afflicts most any kid regardless of pretty much any external factor, including how they were born.

But this faith-based film has its agenda -- with every right to promote it just like any left-leaning film -- and its pro-life message is readily apparent. Thankfully, and other than a few miscues here and there (that easily could have been modified), the pic isn't as preachy as others of its ilk and thus is less likely to repel mainstream audiences.

Then again, these sorts of pics never really are built for any demographic outside their congregation, if you will. And even if this one was, the story of a teen searching for her birth mother and the reason the latter tried to abort the former isn't going to reach far beyond the Lifetime melodrama of the week crowd anyway.

That said, it's certainly the slickest and most professional looking faith-based film yet, even if directors Andrew Erwin and Jon Erwin-- who work from a script the latter penned with Theresa Preston -- occasionally strive for the appearance and feel of an artsy, indie pic. And debuting lead actress Rachel Hendrix not only has a definite presence up on the screen, but her performance is also fairly good and often rather emotionally affecting.

The problem, or problems to be more accurate, is when she sets off to find her birth mother, much to the dismay and worry of her adoptive parents (Jennifer Price and John Schneider, the latter of whom gets the lion's share of parental interaction with the teen - and yes, he was Bo Duke in "The Dukes of Hazzard"). The first miscue, and a jarring one at that, is the filmmakers feeling the need to inject some comic relief into their story at this point.

As this is fairly heavy thematic material, I appreciate their concern of potentially overwhelming their viewers. But the style of comedy they interject -- in the form of Chris Sligh playing a zany goofball who drives Hannah, her lifelong friend Jason (Jason Burkey) and others to Mardi Gras on spring break -- simply doesn't fit in and thus adversely affects the tone of the film.

Compare that to the goofy character Nick Krause played in "The Descendants" (another deeply thematic flick also featuring a road trip of sorts) and one can see how it worked brilliantly there, but simply fills shoe-horned in here. It easily could have been jettisoned with absolutely no impact on the story, but at the same time, had some thought and care been taken with that, it might have positively affected the plot.

The bigger issue is that the film really doesn't have anywhere to go once that road trip ensues. After Jason's girlfriend (Colleen Trusler) acts meanly toward the protagonist, Hannah and Jason end up on their own, still on their quest. What follows is a series of coincidences and convenient plot elements (the two getting arrested for breaking into the abandoned hospital, only to have a cop let them go after he recognizes the name of the woman who signed the girl's birth certificate, with her then having recently run into the birth mother, etc.) that might move the story forward, but don't do anything in regard to character development.

The film's most emotionally charged moment is when former "A Different World" performer Jasmine Guy delivers a stirring recollection of Hannah's birth and how that changed her outlook on abortion. While the film's message is readily visible on her sleeves, that bit is raw and powerful, unlike much of the rest of the film that often feels dramatically inert.

Alas, that pretty much describes the eventual meeting between Hannah and her birth mother (Shari Rigby), which is too bad because that's the payoff everyone has been waiting for. Rather than big fireworks or something poignant, it comes off as fairly listless and without believable closure. Instead, we get a scene where a Catholic priest tells the Baptist girl all about forgiveness, thus allowing the flick to wrap up with a tidy, everyone's happy finale. That seems to solve Hannah's problems, but not the film's. "October Baby" rates as a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed March 18, 2012 / Posted March 23, 2012

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