By now, most people are aware the ideology behind 'October Baby,' so the film's swift narrative shift from milquetoast teen angst flick to heavy-handed pro-life propaganda may not come as much of a surprise. But considering the way the film was given a bifurcated marketing plan in which one trailer delivered the message loud and clear, while another brought about a more subtle version (from which many interpretations could be reached), the whole thing still feels like little more than a sneaky box office grab.
Hailing from co-directing siblings Andrew and Jon Erwin, the film is in the vein of other Christian-themed box office champs: 'Courageous,' 'Fireproof' and 'Facing the Giants,' to be precise. But whereas those films tackled questions of faith and centered on stories of affirmation, the Erwin brothers have created a film that lands smack dab on one side of a hotly debated issue. And therein lies the first problem with the film: it is exists merely as a vessel by which the filmmakers can reach an audience comprised of little more than those who already side with them.
The film begins innocuously enough. Rachel Hendrix stars as Hannah, a young, fresh-faced college student who has earned the dubious honor of having equal amounts of her peers' sympathy and scorn regarding a lifetime of ailments like asthma, seizures, and numerous hip surgeries. After collapsing onstage during a school play, it is revealed – through her father's prying into her journal – that Hannah has begun to have thoughts bordering on suicidal. "Why do I feel I have no right to exist?" she writes, as though born with some sort of preternatural sense regarding the circumstances in which her life began. In a discussion with her parents (played by 'Smallville' veteran John Schneider and Jennifer Price) and her physician, Hannah is told how, after her biological mother deserted her following an unsuccessful abortion attempt, the folks she now knows as mom and dad adopted her.
Much soul searching commences, and Hannah, distraught over the idea that her "whole life is a lie," joins her best friend Jason (Jason Burkey) on the road trip he and his friends are taking to Mardi Gras, so they can stop off in Mobile for Hannah to find whatever it is she is looking for. This is intended to offer some structure to Hannah and Jason's characters, but the lengthy segment merely acts as filler, which distracts from an already exaggerated scheme of belittlement aimed at an unknown woman who dared consider an education and career before having a family.
As if suffering the unwelcome comedic stylings of Bmac (Chris Sligh) weren't justification enough, Hannah and Jason separate from the group after a tiff involving Jason's would-be girlfriend Alanna (Colleen Trusler) sends Hannah heading to Mobile on foot. The two then engage in a series of adventures befitting a Ralph Lauren or McDonald's commercial spotlighted by select tracks from the film's rather unsubtle soundtrack. During their time together Hannah and Jason manage to locate the hospital in which she was born, and, despite the building's dilapidated appearance and fact that it has been abandoned, break in – in search of… what, exactly, the film never says.
What follows is a series of coincidences so contrived they render the film's conclusion a total sham. After they are arrested for their little B&E stunt, Hannah (for the second time, mind you) explains her story to a police officer who (like the cop before) lets Hannah and Jason off the hook. But in one of the aforementioned bizarre coincidences, happens to recognize the signature on Hannah's birth certificate, granting her access to the nurse that was present during the failed procedure. Later, Nurse Mary (Jasmine Guy) takes Hannah through her birth, gruesome detail after gruesome detail, revealing even more information her parents had withheld from their daughter. As luck would have it, Mary just so happens to have run into Hannah's mother not long ago, recognized her - despite the 19 years that had passed from their last meeting - and also had the wherewithal to get the woman's business card. This sets up a largely unfulfilling climax that bounces back and forth between Hannah, her adoptive parents, a random Catholic priest and the biological mother played by Shari Rigby.
As though acknowledging the film's denouement is weak, Rigby also makes an appearance during the end credits with a very personal story that, given the medium and context in which it is delivered, comes off rather awkwardly.
To their credit, the key members of the cast deliver their performances diligently. Hendrix, in her first feature film, showcases a wide range of emotions in the role, and is, at times, captivating and enjoyable to watch. Meanwhile, Jasmine Guy delivers the film's strongest performance, despite its brevity and heavy-handed dialogue. In much the same way, the Erwin brothers have managed to craft a slick looking film that succeeds in its production, but is offset by a hefty list of failures.
Buried in that production is a film marketed with the words "Every Life Is Beautiful" - yet, apparently, every life is not beyond judgment by others or worthy of privacy. At its heart, 'October Baby' wants to be about the act of forgiveness, but in its clumsy execution, the film is more concerned with assessing culpability than exploring the circumstances behind its own narrative. Further diminishing its appeal is a reliance on extreme circumstances as the basis for the central argument; a fact that demonstrates how the filmmakers are less interested in having a discussion and more interested in simply pointing fingers.
Presented with an AVC/MPEG-4 codec, 'October Baby' has a picture that at times looks on the verge of being very good, to nearly excellent – if portions of the film weren't wrapped in a hazy veneer that robs certain early scenes of their clarity and contrast. Still, as the film moves on, there are distinct moments where fine detail in the faces of the actors – especially that of John Schneider – bring forth excellent life-like quality that borders on superb.
In addition to the early issues, contrast levels can be somewhat sketchy throughout the picture – though some of the perceived problems like whites that are too bright and unnaturally vivid colors may actually be a stylistic choice on behalf of the directors. (Note the image near the end of the film in which Hannah walks into the church as an example of colors being augmented purposefully.) This also poses a problem for the actors during indoor scenes where skin tones occasionally lean dramatically toward the red end of the spectrum – which, considering it happens intermittently, makes it stand out all the more.
Overall much of the picture is able to overcome the inconsistency of certain segments. This is largely is due to the fact that the film was proficiently filmed, and while the Erwin brothers use attractive, yet superfluous cinematography as a crutch (which is unsurprising given their background in the music video world) many of those images captured here are actually the highlight of the film.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is very impressive and gets to show off mainly due to the abundance of musical selections the filmmakers have put in as an additional way to interpret the images on screen. Despite that being a problem in terms of storytelling, it certainly doesn't hurt the way the film sounds. While much of the film's soundtrack is appropriately pushed through the front channels, many of the songs fully envelope the listener with portions extending nicely into the rear speakers, without being overbearing or sounding out of synch with the rest of the track.
'October Baby' is largely a dialogue driven film – which might explain the filmmaker's dependency on musical selections as a means to augment the underdeveloped script – but it also points out a glaring discrepancy in the film's audio track. While it presents both music and dialogue with decent clarity and fidelity, it does so without finding balance between the two. As a result, the audio varies wildly between an emotional scene and the inevitable musical selection intended to help clarify what the characters are feeling.
When separate, each part of the audio shines in its presentation. However, those aspects stumble when asked to share the spotlight or transition from one to the other. As there are no real sound effects to drive the use of the rear channels or LFE, in any way beyond what the tracks and musical score can muster, the soundtrack here is proven to be quite good at highlighting music and dialogue, it's just not very adept at segueing between the two.
Beyond a display of decent production values, the sum of its parts largely fail to achieve a satisfying narrative cohesion. All in all, 'October Baby' is substandard with its indistinct tone, ungainly storytelling techniques, and inflated runtime. With the addition of an increasingly aggressive kind of programming that is largely indifferent to anything outside its own doctrine, the end result moves farther away from cinema and more along the lines of propaganda. The Blu-ray release augments that notion as several of the supplemental features are intended solely for those already in line with the film's message. On the technical side, an inconsistent picture manages to show off what could have been if more effort were put into the disc's transfer – which only serves to cement the recommendation that this release be skipped altogether unless you are already a fan.