Steven Crosby wakes up in Antigua, Guatemala with a mission. He has just one day to convert as many locals as he can, armed with only some religious comic books and a couple words of high school Spanish. If he fails, his father, the local preacher, will make Steven pack his things and return to Ohio to a life of menial work in the church. His attempts to bring the locals the good news are thwarted by comic misunderstanding, bad luck, and all manner of mishaps. Just as Steven is about to give up, he has a chance encounter with a sodden street vendor, who puts him on a journey to find a shadowy figure named Maximon - a mix of a Mayan God and a Catholic Saint, and the patron of sinners, prostitutes, and drunks. Steven meets a plucky young Mayan girl and a beautiful, quick witted bar tender who help Steven find Maximon, and himself, along the way. With their help, Steven takes the low road to find a different sort of salvation.Written by
A nice little "finding oneself" piece but without the deep soul searching of "indigenous cultures"
Steven is a missionary in the admittedly mostly Catholic town of Antigua in Guatemala. He has pamphlets to give out and people to save but his good-natured and slightly goofy personality doesn't appear to be getting it done. An encounter with a street vendor sees him seeking out a bar in town where he meets a bar tender and a young girl selling ice cream. As he prepares for his father (small f) to end his missionary work and call him back home, he finds things that gave him doubt.
The Garden of Steven is essentially a film where someone is exposed to an indigenous culture and discovers themselves as a result; it is a trope that is rarely a good one but yet it gets trotted out in films frequently – often marketed at women with children who perhaps feel disconnected from anything of wonder and thing that a rail journey across Europe (etc) will reveal great truths about them that they can take back to the US. If this sounds terrible then perhaps Garden of Steven is the film for you to check out because although it more or less does precisely this, it does it in a different way. So the culture Steven is exposed to is one of liveliness, drinking and where rules and formality is less important than in his very white existence back in a small town in Ohio.
It does still have the potential to be pat and corny in its conclusions but mostly the film avoids this by playing it with a good sense of humor and accessibility that draws the viewer in. Steven is a goofy sort waiting to be changed but the film doesn't force this aspect but rather lets him question himself in the context of his new experience and perspective. I liked the tone throughout and, although over 20 minutes seemed long for a short film, in reality it could have run longer and easily extended some scenes to have more in them. The comedy is very gentle though and it could have used a few more actual laughs to support the slightly quirky feel it had, but mostly it works.
Keener is very good in the lead; judging his character well so he is goofy but not annoyingly self-consciously so in the way some deliberately quirky films would have done. I liked him as a character and a presence so it was easy to go with him. Support from Segura is good but I would have liked her to have been given more material – after her first scene is done the rest of the film doesn't really use her particularly well. The production looks and sounds very good too – not sure how much it cost but there are some very good shots in here and generally the film has a good feel to it in terms of place.
Garden of Steven is not a brilliant or perfect film by any means but it has a good heart and it is structured nicely around that, avoiding the traps of being too clichéd, too quirky or too dull, it walks the line well and is satisfyingly engaging as a nice little film.
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