It's the 1953/54 school year at St. Magnus Catholic School in Hamilton, Ontario. Fourteen year old Ralph Walker is in many ways a typical teenager. He is experimenting with smoking and is openly preoccupied with the opposite sex, which makes him the brunt of jokes amongst his male classmates and which constantly gets him into trouble with the school's strict headmaster, Father Fitzpatrick. As penance and to redirect his energies, Father Fitzpatrick orders Ralph to join the school's cross country running team under the tutelage of the school's avant-garde thinking teacher, Father Hibbert. Some of the more unusual circumstances of Ralph's life are that he lives by himself in the family home, telling the authorities that he is living with his paternal grandparents (who are in reality deceased), and telling his widowed hospitalized mother (Ralph's father was killed in the war) that he is staying with a friend. Ralph's focus in life changes after his mother falls into a coma. It will take ... Written by
Athletic determination of a spirited boy against a backdrop of pathos.
Clearly the best movie out this month (July/August 2005 - I've seen most of them). The easiest way to tell you about it is to compare it to similar movies, and the first that came to mind were Lucas (Corey Haim) and Rudy (Sean Astin). What Saint Ralph shares in common with these films is the extreme athletic determination, against all odds, of a spirited boy from a pathetic background. And it's the best of it's kind since Rudy (1993), at least, and in my opinion since Lucas (1986).
Ralph (Adam Butcher) is a naughty but naive 14-year-old boy, ready to take almost everything literally, now faced with the paradox of faith. His widowed mother is apparently dying in the hospital, and falls into a coma early in the story. A doctor says it will take a miracle to wake her.
Ralph is an interesting character, his even blend of pure and impure motives providing both the humor that make the film entertaining, and the realism that make it believable. His self-abuse in every sense defines the term, from the usual meaning to literally sanding his knees to pray in a pan of alcohol, the latter recommended by his girlfriend, who aspires to be a nun.
When his Catholic school's cross country coach says it would be a miracle if anyone on his team won the Boston Marathon, Ralph's literal mind seizes a fallacious opportunity. If he wins the Boston Marathon, it would be a miracle, and that's what his mother needs to survive. Most of the movie is about his training to run that race, both physical and spiritual, with the help of a priest (Campbell Scott), a nurse (Jennifer Tilly), and his girlfriend (Tamara Hope).
The blend of comedy and pathos is effective, the film kept entertaining by the comedy in the foreground, while the fact that Ralph's mother is dying keeps us interested in the outcome and rooting for the boy. Even if you don't like running or sports in general, the life at stake, or at least the boy's faith at stake, makes this race important.
There may be a bit too much sexual comedy for most parents to let small children see. For instance, after Ralph's caught in a venal sin in the swimming pool, that involved spying on the girl's locker room, he tells his mother "It was really an accident. The manufacture of the pool was faulty." The incident becomes a running joke, demonstrating Ralph's character trait of not caring what other people think. He later says they didn't really need to drain the pool (I'm not going to explain that, you've got to see it, but it was funny). But it's not as crude as other current comedies like The Wedding Crashers and The Bad News Bears.
I recommend Saint Ralph specifically to anyone who liked Lucas or Rudy, and generally to anyone old enough to take the humor maturely.
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