By Jim Tortolano
The new film “Mr. Church” has been referred to in some quarters as Eddie Murphy’s “comeback film” as a dramatic actor. It might also be thought of as a comeback for understated, story-driven films without bags of explosions and yards of skin.
“Mr. Church” (starring Murphy, of course) is the story of a most unique family. A white single mom and her daughter live in near-poverty after the mom’s lover goes back to his wife. As a gesture to love or obligation, her ex hires Henry Church to cook for the small family.
As things go, the daughter (Britt Robertson) resists this intrusion, but little by little, comes to like and eventually depend on Mr. Church for more than just morning crepes. The mom (Natascha McElhone) is dying of cancer and the “cook” evolves into much more – a nurse, a surrogate dad, a protector.
The direction by Bruce Beresford is sure-handed, and the script by Susan McMartin is elegantly simple. The dramatic moments feel real, and the journey that all the characters take is filled with painful, joyous and puzzling turns.
Mr. Church has a bit of a secret, which emerges briefly from time to time, making his otherwise altruistic character more three-dimensional. Murphy, best known for his comedy on stage, TV and in films, demonstrates in this film that he’s got a lot more range than most folks ascribe to him. This is a subtle, nicely-nuanced performance. It’s not “Family Affair” or anything by Will Farrell.
“Mr. Church” also makes a very strong case for the proposition than a serious dramatic film doesn’t have to feel as heavy as a James Joyce novel. It’s a trip through a satisfying emotional landscape, traversed without capes or carbines.
“Mr. Church is rated PG-13 for smoking and some strong language.
Categories: Arts & Leisure