Film: “Mr. Church”; Director: Bruce Beresford; Cast: Eddie Murphy, Britt Robertson, Natascha McElhone, Xavier Samuel, Lucy Fry, Christian Madsen, McKenna Grace; Rating: ***

“Mr. Church” is a competently made film that is sometimes emotionally affecting. Though, the story – “Inspired by true friendship,” is cliched, the film is largely elevated by the credible performances of its lead pair.

It is a tale of love and bonding between the Brooks and Mr. Church, a kind hearted man.

Narrated from Charlotte Brook’s point of view, the story begins in 1971 Los Angeles, when one fine day, as a 10 year old, she finds a stranger in her kitchen, rustling up breakfast for her mother, Marie and her.

The stranger, Mr. Church, is apparently the hired cook for the Brooks, who was bequeathed by Richard, Marie’s rich and already married, deceased lover.

The narrative graph is predictably formulaic. Charlotte who is also referred to as “Charlie,” initially dislikes Mr. Church and gradually she accepts him. He is her friend and father figure, who she depends upon. And how, over a period of time roles reverse, forms the crux of the film.

The script written by television veteran Susan McMartin, in her maiden film credit, has narrative leitmotifs that add style and spirit to the narration. It is this style along with the performances that salvage this weak, stereotypical tale that is burdened with overtly, sugar-coated characters and run-of-the-mill dialogues.

Eddie Murphy in an author-backed role as the mysteriously compassionate “Mr. Church” is genuinely effortless. He breaks his mould of a comedian in this emotional drama and is a treat to watch. His restrained act with a dignified charisma elevates his character. But his mysterious track coupled with his flaws, over a period of time becomes an irritant factor and it further gets aggravated during the denouement.

Natalie Coughlin as the young Charlie, mesmerises us with an impressive performance. She shines while displaying her blunt dislike for Mr. Church or when she internalises her pain. She lays the foundation for Britt Robertson who seamlessly plays the older Charlie. Robertson too is striking as she delivers a flawlessly delicate and mature performance in depicting the various shades of her character.

The others in supporting roles too essay their roles effectively and leave an impact. Notable among them are Xavier Samuel and Lincoln Melcher as the older and younger Owen – Charlie’s love interest, Lucy Fry and Madison Wolfe as the older and younger Poppy – Charlie’s only friend in school, Natascha McElhone as Marie – Charlie’s terminally ill mother and McKenna Grace as Izzy – Charlie’s young daughter.

Technically, the film fits into the groove of Director Bruce Beresford’s portfolio. He had earlier given us “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Double Jeopardy” and he does nothing to break the mould.

Overall, “Mr. Church” is a pleasant film that touches a raw nerve, once too often. It may appeal to you if you are a sucker for melodramas.

By Troy Ribeiro

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