The Spitfire Grill
I gave this one a go mainly to hear Horner's magnificent score in its natural habitat. The rather poor reviews led me to expect this movie to be your typical rather amateur level cliched faith-based picture that ends up being more message than movie. It's Sundance win and the Horner's efforts gave me a sneaking suspicion that it might be more than that.
Well, it's no forgotten masterpiece, but this story of a young woman trying to leave her past behind in a very small Maine town is still well worth watching on its own merits.
I'm not sure what all the fuss was about back in '96 about this being a movie financed by Catholic priests. It's certainly not drowning in Catholic or even broadly Christian moralizing. It's just a movie. There is a kind of a message here if you squint, with the protagonist being a sort of Christ-figure, but it seems at least on first impression to have more in common with the kind of transcendentalism you find in Emerson or Thoreau, which is appropriate considering the New England setting.
This setting helps make this a very pretty movie. Pastoral landscapes, lush forests, and cozy interiors are all filmed in a way that brings out beauty and color without sacrificing realism.
The same can be said about the movie's performances, which mostly feel rather grounded and unforced. The dialogue is that type of folksy that you usually encounter in movies and on TV, but I suppose there are people who speak like this out there. The script itself has some structural issues, with highs and lows feeling a bit rushed together, preventing the build up to the conclusion from having the impact that I think writer/director Lee David Zlotoff (of MacGyver fame) intended. Still, he certainly foreshadows things well.
As for cliches, well this is neither a case of throwing together a string of cliches and calling it a movie and nor is it a work that takes cliches and creates something new out of them. It just seems quietly comfortable with taking the path of least resistance much of the time. And I guess that sort of thing has its place.
But, it does somewhat transcend that at times. For much of the movie, the secondary characters and the audience are led to believe that this is indeed a typical type of story where the protagonist, Percy, fresh out of prison, needs to find redemption. But, as it turns out, she does not need redemption, she needs healing. Ironically, the town of Gilead can't quite give this to her. In a cliched movie she would find this in the reliable trinity of friendship, nature, and romance. But Percy's wounds are too deep for romance, misunderstandings can be fatal to friendship, and heeding the siren call of nature can lead to a hard kind of healing.
As well, the movie manages to say something important, albeit rather subtly, about how victims of sexual abuse are treated in society.
At any rate, I enjoyed the movie and am not surprised Horner found himself drawn to it.