|Index||6 reviews in total|
The late Lord Lew Grade never quite succeeded in establishing himself on
big screen, and "Something to Believe In" - the last movie he produced
before his death - continues the tradition. Plus, it reminds you that "they
don't make them like that anymore" for a reason.
I have nothing against sugary sentimentality (in fact, I like a good "aaahhh" as much as the next person); it's badly-done sugary sentimentality I object to, and John Hough's movie is filled with the stuff. A Las Vegas waitress/aspiring actress (Maria Pitillo) discovers she's dying and puts her faith in a statue of the Madonna that has been found weeping in Italy; en route she meets a talented pianist (William McNamara) on the way to a big competition. Cue what should and could have been an affecting drama, but what in practice comes within throwing distance of camp; jaw-droppingly bad dialogue (our heroine's boss [Robert Wagner]: "You can die on your own time"), amazingly contrived plot turns, unbelievable ending... you can feel the brain cells inside your skull dying as the film unspools.
The movie also sports some very bad editing and performances that don't move much beyond the level of making lines heard and not bumping into the furniture (pity Tom Conti and the late Ian Bannen). Also, the guest appearances in the opening credits are over and done with by the first fifteen minutes, for which Wagner, Jill St. John and the late Roddy McDowall were no doubt grateful... but no film is totally without redeeming features, and the Italian scenery and the musical moments (including Placido Domingo warbling Tim Rice lyrics over the credits) are the only times the movie really works, making Lalo Schifrin - who also appears onscreen conducting the orchestra in the contest climax - the real star of the film. But you can buy the soundtrack album instead.
Lew Grade's real successes were always in TV - stick with them.
The plot is believable and the actors are perfect for their parts. This is one of the best I've seen William McNamara in for some time and he was simply great. Maria Pitillo was outstanding as the girl with a medical problem seeking spiritual help to over come it. Although the plot was some what predictable, the ending left you hanging to see if Pitillo's character was really alive or dead back in spirit form. Bravo, bravo, bravo for this one and I'll watch it again. You should too.
Don't expect a deep and meaningful film but this film is good to watch
and I even took the trouble to buy a copy. The performances are good
and, despite some flaws in the dialogue, quite convincing within the
limitations of a simple story.
Maria Pitillo is the stronger of the two leads but William McNamara also does a good job and the supporting parts are ably fulfilled by Tom Conti and Ian Bannen although the latter's Italian Accent is never entirely convincing.
At a time when so many films are deliberately unpleasant, this is an old fashioned and unashamedly "heart warming" piece, despite its flaws. Enjoy it for what it is and don't take it too seriously.
We all truly want something to believe in, and the concept of this
film, dealing as it does with personal faith, miracles and the Catholic
Church should have been a great one.
As it is, it is likely to be remembered as one of the films shot in MGM's Los Vegas Grand Hotel. In fact, it's really a "road" movie, with our intrepid travellers in a Herbie-like VW Beetle, which is really quite funny at times. Which is exactly where the film starts getting into trouble, because we have a quite serious theme how do we cope with death and dying, and can we extend hope for the miraculous overlaid with a patchy comedy that quite often seems to overtake the picture, putting the theme into suspended animation. We understand that Mike (William McNamara) is a religious sceptic, and that Maggie (Maria Pitillo) is a 'believer'. Well, sort of, because we never find out what it is she really does believe in, beyond the statue of the weeping Madonna, of course.
I'll get back to the plot in a minute, but first for the good points. I like John Hough for the MGM Grand sequences; I like him for the authenticity of really shooting in Italy, and I like him for the type casting, which works supremely well. The priests, the lady restoring religious art, even the car mechanic all totally believable. Pitillo, in the central role of the weeks-to-live Maggie, I'm never quite sure about, however, for reasons I'll touch on below.
What lets the film down badly is that there simply is no character development in this story. How can a young woman search half of Europe for a miracle and not undergo an inner transformation? In real life, people often do not change on cue, but in the dramatic form, we need to make sense of life, and that means if people do not change in response to life's curves, then at least we have a right to know why they stay the same.
Then there is the theme. As the end credits rolled, I was still puzzling over what the film is trying to say about the Church and personal faith. It would be easy to say that there are no easy answers, but that is unacceptable and dishonest for a film that claims to tackle such issues head-on. The film shows piety, but why? Is it really mocking the faithful? Maggie is desperate to reach the weeping Madonna, yet in the midst of her pilgrimage, this does not give her qualms about having sex with someone she's known maybe two days. That's going to alienate a lot of Catholics who otherwise could be very sympathetic toward the film. If pre-marital sex was essential to the plot, fine. But we really, really could have lived without it, and more importantly, so could Maggie and Mike. Ultimately, then, what is this film really about? Maybe it's two films in one; two lives in one. Maggie's faith and Mike's music, but if so, where's the real connection? I acknowledge that I look at films more critically from the writing angle, as that is my area of expertise. That explains why, for instance, I'm entirely overlooking Tony Pierce Roberts' quite acceptable and neatly wrapped cinematography. It explains why I'm being a philistine and deliberately ignoring the classical pieces we see and hear beautifully performed, (I'm assuming McNamara really did perform those piano pieces, but the credits didn't make this clear). Nice as all this may be, we didn't actually need this for the plot.
What we did need was something to tie up all the plot lines into a nice, neat conclusion. And we didn't get it. We got surface gloss, which is fine for "Maid in Manhattan" but not here. What worries me is how such an obvious shortcoming managed to get overlooked in production.
This leads me to a pet theory: the most important part of the dramatic curve is the ending, not the climax. I'm not suggesting that a film with a well crafted ending will do any better at the box office, will have more depth, or will be transformed into a more meaningful film. But too many potentially good films have been ruined by skimpy endings; and it's the ending that theatre-goers leave their seats with.
The way for a script-writer to think about the ending should not be, "How am I going to get myself extricated from this mess in the least possible screen time," but rather: "Here's the place where I give my audience just that little but more: that added value. How can I surprise them; let them think I've forgotten about those few loose ends? Then I'll hit them with it; give them that little extra twist, that deeper insight, that warm feeling of completeness!" There's no room to elaborate, but you may wish to check my other published reviews. In each of them, I attempt to bring out a point we can all learn from, and here my bottom line is that John Hough (and John Goldsmith who collaborated on the script) were swimming out of their spiritual depth. Someone should have stepped in as a spiritual adviser on this project.. not to provide nice tidy answers to the way things ought to be, but to ask questions; to get this film working on a level that it utterly falls flat on.
"Something to Believe In" could and should have been a masterpiece of faith, hope and joy. It does not deliver, and for that I'm sorry: for this is a film that I really hoped would work; that so very nearly does work. But nearly is never enough. Ultimately, the script is just too shaky for this to become a satisfying or deeply moving cinematic experience. It was played for laughs and lost its meaning. The sad part is thinking what this film could have been.
This is a great film, full of warmth, heart and faith. It has great
acting, wonderful music and great visuals. I must admit that this did
bring more than tears to my eyes, as only great films do. Thank you to
the people who made this film, and put me though such a wonderful
A boring and allegedly romantic drama in which Maria Pitillo is
diagnosed with a terminal illness and travels to Italy to get cured by
a weeping statue. William McNamara is thoroughly charmless as a pianist
also on his way to Italy, and the rest you can figure out for yourself.
What could have been a sweet film is instead a heavy-handed, stodgy lump that needed a far lighter touch than director John Hough displays here. The movie has a decent cast (I've always got time for Roddy McDowall) but is made bearable only by Pitillo, who's a ray of light in the surrounding banality, giving this thing what little magic it has despite having to break open an endless pile of fortune cookies as she wades through the dialogue. She's really lovely in this.
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