(R) Three stars
At church, the minister bases his sermon on the story of the Good Samaritan. Later, during Sunday meal, a man dining with his wife and adult son asks his offspring, “And what did you learn from the lesson this morning?” After receiving a half-baked answer peppered with racist language, the perturbed father decides to spell things out. “The parable is about prudence. See, they wanted to help that fellow (lying on the side of the road), but he looked like he was dead and you can’t touch a dead man — they’d be violating a religious law. They were being prudent.” Following a bit of clumsy discussion between the men, the lady of the house pleasantly says, “You know, I always thought that the Good Samaritan parable was about helping people.” The room goes silent for a moment, then the older man states, “Every good parable has more than one meaning.”
Set in the small town of Bethlehem, Texas, Screen Door Jesus is a multi-story film based on short stories by Christopher Cook and modeled after movies like Robert Altman’s Short Cuts. First time feature director Kirk Davis, who also wrote the script, certainly deserves credit for his ambition, or audacity, if you will. As should surprise no one, he lacks the expertise for such a task — the film is wildly uneven, some storylines fail to receive the attention they deserve, and there are rough edges aplenty – but I’ll tell you what, I watched the screener copy of the film twice, and I don’t often watch screeners a second time. Despite its problems, Screen Door Jesus is funny and curious and always interesting. Bethlehem is an entertaining place to visit — though I most certainly wouldn’t want to live there.
Religion is prominent throughout the film and, for the most part, fairly presented. The movie shows no preference for one church group over another; restraint is even shown when a gaggle of anti-gay fundamentalist protestors turn up. Believers, skeptics and non-believers are treated the same. Though some of the characters are drawn with broad strokes, the affection for the population of this small town is obvious.
I’d like to describe the plotlines for you, but neither you nor I have time for that, so here are the very basics: Devout, cranky Mother Harper (Cynthia Dorn) discovers the image of Jesus on her front door screen and her yard soon turns into a circus, as people come from all over to pray, take pictures and argue whether what they behold is a miracle or rust.
Across town, young Robroy Conroy (Eugene P. Williams) watches as his ailing mother (Silvia Moore) is denied medical treatment because grandma (Franchelle S. Dorn) believes it to be against the will of God. Meanwhile, beautiful Sharon Beaudry (Alaina Kalanj) won’t have sex with widowed sheriff Lou Dawson (Myk Watford) unless he converts, because she doesn’t want to sleep with someone with whom she can’t spend eternity.
There are many more stories, but you get the idea. From tone to acting quality, Screen Door Jesus is all over the place, but indulgent filmgoers will easily find enough good stuff to make up for the dicey parts. The film opens Friday at Key Cinemas Beech Grove, where owner Ron Keedy encourages anyone with a relic or object they believe has an image on it (not necessarily religious) to bring their treasure to the theater for display. You’ll get a free admission as well.