Review: Mr. Church

Mr. Church
5 10
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PLOT: A terminally ill woman (Natascha McElhone), and her young daughter are gifted with the services of a mysterious cook, Mr. Church (Eddie Murphy) by a wealthy benefactor.

REVIEW: Even though MR. CHURCH is not a good movie it’s probably still worth seeing. Everything about it is cloying and sentimental, playing like an even more genteel remake of director Bruce Beresford’s own DRIVING MISS DAISY, but like that film, the actor playing the idealized but hugely stereotypical black domestic at the film’s heart gives a terrific performance. It’s especially noteworthy here because that performance happens to come from Eddie Murphy, who hasn’t made a film (or even many public appearances) in four years.

eddie murphy mr church

Like many other writers here, I can still remember a time when Eddie Murphy was the king of Hollywood, and the man’s been a star longer than I’ve been alive. In a career full of ups and downs, Eddie always manages to comeback, and if MR. CHURCH is an indication that Murphy’s looking to do more dramatic work, then we’re definitely in for some really fine performances, as he’s better here than the movie deserves.

Church is definitely a problematic figure, and this somewhat excused by the fact that this is a period piece, taking place over a thirty year period beginning in the mid-sixties. Church is made to be enigmatic, with him having no personal life whatsoever; with his only rule towards his employers being that they’re not allowed asking questions about his personal life. This sounds mysterious, but there’s never any evidence of anything even remotely unseemly going-on, which would have at least been interesting.

Through it all, Church is presented as a saint-like figure. A gifted polymath, he’s shown to be a world-class cook, pianist, painter, illustrator and art aficionado, with part of his gift to the household being his exquisitely curated library, for which he makes cutesy library cards. The initial premise is that he’s been hired for six months by McElhone’s deceased former lover, with the promise of a lifetime salary in trust for keeping his word, but it turns into a thirty-year plus saga of devotion, with him taking in the now-grown daughter (Britt Robertson) of his former charge when she finds herself pregnant and homeless. Through it all, Church supports her emotionally and financially, with not even a cross word of protest.

Now, apparently Church is based on a real guy, but the extent of his kindness here is superhuman, with him apparently keeping the whole family living in a comfortable middle-class on his cook’s salary, while also paying tuition, medical bills and more. Murphy is great at conveying Church’s kindness and nobility, but it would have been nice if Beresford had at least taken the opportunity to make him convincingly human. It’s hinted (lightly) that he might be gay, but even that intriguing idea is abandoned, with him living an almost monk-like existence devoted only to servitude.

eddie murphy mr church

Britt Robertson’s character doesn’t fare any better, with her being among the most passive big screen heroines in recent memory. She gets by solely on the kindness of the kooky characters that exist in her cuddly neighborhood, with them defining their own lives by the ways they help her – like the block’s alcoholic (Christian Madsen) who gets his life back on track after rescuing her from a dangerous situation. Through it all, she never does a single thing for herself – taking Church’s support almost for granted.

As such, MR. CHURCH is a deeply confused movie, as it’s supposed to be uplifting, but the idea of this genius putting everyone else’s happiness ahead of his own becomes almost depressing as it rolls towards it’s inevitably tragic conclusion. Yet, Murphy’s performance is really excellent, and while sentimental and stunningly non-P.C at times (it feels like a movie made thirty years ago), it rolls right along as is never boring – even if only because you’ll be slapping your head in amazement in how cheesy it gets.

Source: JoBlo.com



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