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Something to Believe In (1998)

| Drama | 8 May 1998 (UK)
An American woman given only a few weeks to live travels to Italy to find a statue reputed to have recuperative powers and there meets a struggling American concert pianist.


John Hough




Credited cast:
William McNamara ... Mike
Maria Pitillo ... Maggie
Tom Conti ... Monsignor Calogero
Maria Schneider ... Maria Faccino
Ian Bannen ... Don Pozzi
Robert Wagner ... Brad
Roddy McDowall ... Gambler
William Hootkins ... Car Dealer
Jill St. John ... Dr. Joanne Anderson
Craig Vincent ... Big Guy
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Osvaldo Alzari Osvaldo Alzari ... Photographer
Bruno Armando Bruno Armando ... Stage Manager
Lisa Bales Lisa Bales ... Nurse
Raffaello Benedetti Raffaello Benedetti ... Chef
Sheri Brummond Sheri Brummond ... Assistant


Maggie (Maria Pitillo) travels to Italy with great faith, as her last hope to heal her terminal illness, and meets Mike (William McNamara), an atheist concert pianist who helps her along her way. Ironically, even the church itself doesn't believe in the healing powers of the statue, but Maggie's faith is so great it changes the life of everyone around her.

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Did You Know?


This production marks the last live-action theatrical movie performance for Roddy McDowall (Gambler). McDowall was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in April of 1998, one month before this movie's release; and he switched from film to voice work during the last months of his life. The cancer metastasized over the sixth month period McDowall had left to live, and by October 1998, it had spread to his brain. He died on October 3rd of that same year at the age of seventy. See more »


Music by Lalo Schifrin
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Performed by Plácido Domingo and The Orchestra of St. Lukes
Orchestrated and Conducted by Lalo Schifrin
See more »

User Reviews

A Film to Believe in, Sadly Played for Laughs
20 June 2006 | by john-ruffleSee all my reviews

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.

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Release Date:

8 May 1998 (UK) See more »

Also Known As:

Algo en que creer See more »

Filming Locations:

Urbino, Italy See more »

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Aspect Ratio:

2.35 : 1
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