Mainstream-media movie reviewers don’t think much of “Little Boy,” from executive producers Mark Burnett, Roma Downey and Eduardo Verastegui, which releases today in theaters nationwide.
“Little Boy is a shockingly miscalculated World War II fable” — The A/V Club.
Well, it has to be seen to be believed, frankly. Giving the title a whole new meaning, one that World War II buffs should have no trouble guessing, the moment is almost too tasteless for words. (We’re in Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close territory here, people.) Yet long before Little Boy has gone full-tilt over the edge, flirting with treating a grand-scale tragedy like a miracle, it’s revealed itself to be the kind of inspirational entertainment that would rather feed its audience comforting platitudes than deal with the tough questions a handful of its characters raise. Here, faith is not a tool for self-improvement or a route to inner peace, but a kind of magic ticket, making all dreams come true. God may work in mysterious ways, as one devil’s advocate reminds, but movies like this do not. There is only one way it can end.
“Little Boy Is a Fable About Faith vs. Magical Thinking” — The New York Times
The steady performances of Tom Wilkinson, playing a kindly priest, and Emily Watson, an angelic mother, in Alejandro Monteverde’s “Little Boy” do little to offset the cloying sweetness of a movie that has the haranguing inspirational tone of a marathon Sundayschool lesson. This tearstained lump of hokum, drenched in oversaturated color, is a World War II fable about faith versus magical thinking.
And lest you think it’s just them, here’s a review from Christianity Today:
Little Boy isn’t a bad movie, but it’s not a very good one either. Its heart is in the right place, but Monteverde and his team are trying too hard, and it doesn’t feel nearly as earthy and lifelike as Bella. I had higher expectations for Little Boy, but when I saw the trailer a few months ago, I was concerned. But hey, it’s just a trailer, right?
Turns out my concerns were justified.
I’m not a reviewer by trade, but I will say I thought the script needed a couple more polishes before production, and that there were some very awkward lines and moments. But, I also thought it picked up in the second half and had some good performances — especially by its young star, Jakob Salvati — and honestly affecting moments.
In the end, it’s not what these reviewers think, or even what I think, that matters. It’s what the bulk of moviegoers think and how they express that with their ticket dollars, especially during opening weekend.
Unfortunately, the faith-based audience is not at the top of the agenda for major studios and filmmakers, who, when they do tackle Judeo-Christian themes, seem more eager to just shred Bible stories in productions like “Noah” and “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”
And those productions targeted at Christian audiences tend to be low-budget and often not high-quality (the exception being Burnett and Downey’s “The Bible,” “Son of God” and “A.D.: The Bible Continues,” which, while not perfect, are currently at the higher end of Scripture-based productions, both in budget and production values). Most of the faith-based material that exists also comes from Evangelical or Protestant sources, because, frankly, they’re the folks willing to raise cash to do movies.
“Little Boy” isn’t a Bible story, and its faith elements are present but not omnipresent. It’s also from a Catholic viewpoint — not the usual smells-and-bells window-dressing treatment that the Faith gets on TV and in movies, but from a sincere, informed perspective.
The movie is also promoting the Corporal Works of Mercy to a mass audience — as I wrote about here at CatholicVote — and it’s hard to argue with that.
I wish it were better, but its sins are more from trying too hard rather than not trying enough, or not respecting the audience. And just because I didn’t love it, or reviewers actively dislike it, doesn’t mean that you won’t enjoy “Little Boy,” or that there aren’t things of great merit in it.
And frankly, if some of these movies don’t start making money, it’s going to be harder and harder to produce more. If you sit at home waiting for the perfect faith-based movie to hit theaters, you may wait into eternity.
So, go out this weekend and see “Little Boy.” Cheer what you like, and give the filmmakers constructive and charitable feedback on how they could do better the next time.
Remember also that if Catholics don’t feel represented at the movies, it’s because we’re not representing in anything near the numbers, the determination, the talent, the influence and the effort that’s necessary to succeed. No one hands you power in Hollywood, you have to work for it.
I commend Verastegui and his team at Metanoia Films for their persistence in getting “Little Boy” to the screen, and I challenge any other Catholics out there with ability and vision to put their creativity and their cash on the line to ensure that our voices are heard.