Simon Birch Grows on You

In Arts & Entertainment

The best things in life come in small packages. "Simon Birch" is no exception. The ill-fated story of a small-sized boy is a gift from heaven itself as well as a gift for Hollywood Pictures. A tiny child takes the leading role in what should be the titanic motion picture of this year. "Simon Birch" is based on John Irving's touching book A Prayer For Owen Meany.

The story itself has tremendous emotional appeal and screenwriter/director Mark Steven Johnson has adequately captured the emotional core of the book.

The cast adds additional strength to the film. Departing from his zany roles in such films as "The Mask" and "Liar, Liar," Jim Carrey is hardly recognizable as the film's narrator.

Ashley Judd plays Rebecca, the loving and sexy mother of Birch's friend Joe Wenteworth. Judd reportedly jumped at the chance to play the part of Rebecca.

Making his acting debut as Birch is the 11-year-old, 3-foot-1-inch, Ian Michael Smith. It is an unusual opportunity for an actor to have his first role be the leading part in a major motion picture.

Born in Gravestown Memorial Hospital, Birch was the smallest delivery ever recorded in the hospital's history. The doctors proclaimed Birch a miracle. Growing up, Birch is quick to remind anybody who forgets his miracle status.

His mere size and spunky personality draws negative and positive attention. Birch predicts to Wenteworth that people's derogatory attitudes will change once he becomes a hero. Wenteworth tells Birch not to repeat his beliefs to people, that they will make fun of him more than they already do. Birch, however, fulfills his prophecy through an unfortunate, unexpected sequence of events.

"Simon Birch" is ultimately an emotional roller coaster as you strangely become attached to Smith's character and his serious interactions with Wenteworth's quest for his unknown father.

There are humorous moments with Reverend Russell (David Strathairn) and the miserable Sunday school teacher Miss Leavey (Jan Hooks).

The warm interactions between the new drama teacher, Ben Goodrich (Oliver Platt), and Wenteworth's mother, are touching moments that result from unexpected mishaps.

Although it fails to avoid cliches, this movie causes the audience to examine its message. The deeply philosophical story delves into how tragedies become hidden blessings.

"Simon Birch" shows how a series of events are not as random as they appear. Every event has an underlying meaning that is controlled by some unseen hand. This movie is a treat to all.

"Simon Birch" opens nationwide Sept. 11.

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